Malaysia tries to allay concerns over supply of Covid-19 vaccines

People wearing protective masks cross a street in Kuala Lumpur, Nov 30, 2020.
People wearing protective masks cross a street in Kuala Lumpur, Nov 30, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government sought to allay concerns over a potential disruption to the production of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, saying it would look at other vaccine candidates to ensure a supply for Malaysians if needed.

Pakatan Harapan MP Fahmi Fadzil asked in Parliament on Monday (Dec 7) if the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to Malaysia would be affected, following a Reuters report that the US drugmaker anticipates producing 50 million doses this year, down from an earlier target of 100 million.

He also queried the government's preparations to receive the vaccines and the additional costs involved in the logistics on top of the RM3 billion (S$986 million) allocation announced.

In response, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said: "I am aware of the supply issues, but the same media report also stated that the problem would affect only the 2020 supply. As far as I know, it does not affect the supply for the Malaysian government next year."

Should there be a disruption in the supply chain, Mr Khairy said the government would identify other candidates to ensure there is sufficient supply for Malaysians.

Reuters last Friday reported that Pfizer has been forced to slash its production targets for its Covid-19 vaccine because of a lack of raw materials for its supply chain, sparking concerns of shortage.

Malaysia inked a deal with the Covax Facility (Covax) and Pfizer on Nov 23 and Nov 24 respectively, to supply 12.8 million doses which is enough to cover 20 per cent of the population.

Covax is an alliance of countries pooling their resources to ensure the equitable global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

The country is expected to receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to immunise 6.4 million Malaysians as early as January next year.

Under the Budget 2021, the Malaysian government is allocating RM3 billion, specifically for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Mr Khairy also refuted a statement attributed to Umno MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that the government had exhausted the entire allocation to buy Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer.

The allocation, Mr Khairy said, is for procurement, storage, and transport for vaccinating 70 per cent of the population with coronavirus vaccines, and is not just for Pfizer's vaccine alone.

"I can categorically state in the House today that those claims are baseless and not true at all. I cannot disclose the actual price of the procurement with Pfizer due to the NDA (non-disclosure agreement). But our agreement with Pfizer and also with Covax is still way within our reach of the RM3 billion for 70 per cent of the population," Mr Khairy said, adding that the final costs of the vaccines for Malaysia were still under discussion.

Preliminary data on an ongoing clinical trial shows that the vaccine has an over 90 per cent efficacy rate.

However, the need to store the vaccines at at least minus 70 deg C puts it out of the reach of up to two-thirds of the world's population.

Malaysia's pharmaceutical distributors have limited capacity to handle such a requirement at large quantities, prompting Democratic Action Party lawmaker Kelvin Yii from Sarawak state to question how the vaccine would get to people in rural areas.

This, however, was not addressed due to time constraint.