KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will allow its private healthcare providers to open negotiations to procure their own Covid-19 vaccine supplies, the government said on Monday (March 29).
However, the country's coordinating minister for its immunisation programme, Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, tempered expectations by warning that a private sector vaccine roll-out - which would allow individuals to pay for their own Covid-19 vaccine - might take place only in the second half of 2021.
Mr Khairy said that he would hold discussions with private hospitals about allowing them to procure vaccines, following a request by the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) to run a parallel vaccination drive along with the government's free vaccination programme to help the country achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.
"But, I want to manage expectations. The private sector vaccines might only arrive in the third or fourth quarter of the year because there is a shortage of vaccine supply globally," he said during his weekly briefing on the national immunisation programme.
Mr Khairy said that being willing to pay for the vaccines via private hospitals would not guarantee individuals early inoculation.
The Malaysian government has procured enough vaccines for the country's entire population and aims to inoculate 80 per cent of its people by the end of the year at the earliest.
The Covid-19 vaccines procured by the government are to be administered for free. They are Germany's Pfizer-BioNTech, China's Sinovac, Britain's AstraZeneca, and Russia's Sputnik V. The first three have received approval from Malaysian pharmaceutical regulators, with the first two currently being used in the national vaccination programme.
Mr Khairy also said on Monday that Malaysia will bring forward the third phase of its vaccination programme - meant for the general population - by a month. This is due to low registrations by senior citizens who are eligible to get inoculated, starting next month.
Only two million out of 9.4 million senior citizens in Malaysia have registered for vaccination under the second phase, which will begin on April 19.
Hence, Mr Khairy said that general population vaccination, which was scheduled to begin from May this year, will be brought forward while the government attempts to reach out to more high-risk groups to get their vaccines.
The country has so far inoculated over 580,000 front-liners with at least one dose in just over a month since beginning its vaccination programme. It aims to finish vaccinating 647,398 front-liners in total within the next two weeks before beginning phase two.
Mr Khairy also said on Monday that private general practitioners would be able to administer the free Covid-19 vaccines to patients who prefer to receive their jabs at their nearest private clinic instead of government vaccination centres, starting from April 19.
However, he said that the contribution of private GPs to the vaccination drive will "not be considerable", as they might be able to administer only dozens of vaccines per day, and there is also a logistical consideration of getting certain vaccines - such as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - from vaccine storage locations to private clinics.
"We will ask the registered GPs to provide an indicative list of patients that want to be vaccinated at their clinics," Mr Khairy said.
Over 7.2 million people - or around 21 per cent of Malaysia's population - have registered for Covid-19 vaccination so far.