KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's first shipment of coronavirus vaccines touched down at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on Sunday (Feb 21) morning, with another consignment making its way over land from Singapore to Johor the same afternoon.
The total of 312,390 doses made several stops since leaving the Pfizer plant in Belgium, including Leipzig, Germany and Singapore, which is the Asia-Pacific distribution hub for the much-awaited Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Some 16 secret locations nationwide will hold the vaccines, including four in Johor that are receiving the doses via ground shipments from Singapore. Nearly a quarter of this batch, or 73,710 doses, travelled across the Causeway.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who is also tasked with leading the national Covid-19 immunisation programme (NIP), told reporters on Sunday that the vaccination roll-out has been brought forward to Wednesday, from Feb 26, with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah the first to receive their jabs.
"They will receive their first injections after the Cabinet meeting," Mr Khairy said.
Half a million front liners, mostly made up of healthcare workers who are at the heart of the nation's fight against the deadly pandemic, will be prioritised in the first phase of the NIP.
High-risk individuals will be next, before the general adult population joins in - with a target of inoculating at least 80 per cent of the people - by February 2022.
Initial reports indicate that Malaysia will administer between 75,000 and 150,000 doses per day.
A second batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will arrive on Feb 26, and then at fortnightly intervals.
China-made Sinovac vaccines will also begin arriving from Feb 27, although it has not yet received Malaysian regulatory approval.
Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong also told reporters that he has discussed with his Singapore counterpart, Mr Ong Ye Kung, a proposal for a "universal certification" for individuals who have completed their coronavirus immunisations. Such certification would allow them to travel between the two countries, as well as to other countries in the region.
"This matter will be brought to Wisma Putra, to accept a certification along with reciprocating countries," Dr Wee said, referring to the Foreign Ministry's headquarters.
"The matter is being discussed. As the vaccination process is ongoing, we will follow-up... possibly there will be no need to quarantine any more. This can revive the aviation industry in Malaysia and regionally," he added.
Responding to The Straits Times' query on the "universal certification", Singapore's Ministry of Transport said there had been various discussions, at the International Civil Aviation Organisation and also between partners, on mutual recognition of vaccination credentials.
"The Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore have been actively involved in such discussions, including with close neighbours like Malaysia," a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Logistics partner DHL said in a statement on Sunday that a key challenge of transporting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Malaysia was the requirement for low temperatures of minus 80 deg C to minus 60 deg C. This means the doses were delivered in specially designed thermal shipper packaging customised by the manufacturer that includes temperature and GPS trackers.
"No effort is spared in ensuring that our well-established DHL Medical Express solution adheres to the stringent requirements of speed, quality, security, and reliability when it comes to transporting these precious cargo," said DHL Express Asia-Pacific chief executive Ken Lee.