KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government on Tuesday revealed that it had signed a deal to procure 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine which would cover 40 percent of the country’s population.
In a televised announcement, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government was also in talks with China and Russia to secure further supplies to increase Malaysia’s total vaccination coverage to 80 percent or 26.5 million of the population.
“Through all the negotiations and agreements that have been and will be signed, for now, the government will spend a total of $504.4 million,” Muhyiddin added.
The government had previously inked a preliminary agreement with COVAX and Pfizer facilities for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines which will be administered to 30 percent of the population.
Public health experts, however, questioned the usage and administration of the vaccines acquired by the government.
Dr. Lim Chee Han, a senior researcher at the Third World Network, an international research and advocacy organization based in Malaysia, told Arab News that although the newly acquired vaccines would cover a large proportion of the population, their administration would still rely on regulatory approvals by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) and the Ministry of Health.
“We wouldn’t know how the government is going to distribute the various vaccine brands based on demographics, region, and state across Malaysia,” Lim said.
He pointed out that there could be some ethical implications due to differences in the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccine.
“Any vaccine which goes wrong would have negative consequences to the population, fueling the deep suspicion of anti-vaxxers,” he added.
Muhyiddin, however, in his announcement assured the public that the vaccines were safe.
“To convince the people that the vaccine obtained is safe and effective, I will be among the first individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccination followed by front liners, and high-risk target groups such as the elderly, and those with non-communicable diseases and chronic respiratory diseases,” he said.
The premier added that the country’s special vaccine supply guarantee committee, established and co-chaired by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, would ensure vaccine supplies could be secured immediately.
“The government expects the first supply of 1 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer to be received and will be given to the target group as early as February 2021.”
The PM said that the NPRA and Ministry of Health would continue to monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines after they had been obtained and used.
Last Friday, Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah arrived in the UAE for a five-day visit at the invitation of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, during which Abu Dhabi donated 500,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to the southeast Asian country.