Malaysia steps up COVID vaccine plans with AstraZeneca deal

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says government also in final stages of vaccine negotiations with Russia and China.

A doctor collects a swab sample for coronavirus outside a clinic in Shah Alam in Malaysia [Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Malaysia has signed an agreement to buy 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and is in negotiations with China and Russia to secure more vaccine supplies, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a video address on Tuesday, as the country continues to battle a third wave of coronavirus cases.

The government signed a deal to secure 12.8 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech in November and is also sourcing vaccines from the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme.

“This means that we have secured vaccine supplies to cover 40 percent (of the population),” Muhyiddin said.

The government is now in final negotiations with China-based manufacturers Sinovac and CanSino Biologics as well as Russia’s Gamaleya Institute to cover its remaining requirements and expects to have sufficient vaccine to inoculate 83 percent of people in the country.

Malaysia is battling a third wave of the coronavirus, but has allowed shops and other businesses to remain open providing they comply with health protocols such as mask wearing and the installation of plastic shields [Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

“These will not just be vaccine purchases but will also include fill & finish capacity (putting the vaccines in the vials) in Malaysia and potential R&D tie-ups,” Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s minister of science, technology and innovation, said on Twitter.

Total procurement costs are currently about $504.4m, according to the government.

After keeping the coronavirus in check for much of the year, Malaysia has been battling a third wave of infections, which accelerated after a state election in the Borneo state of Sabah in September and then spread to Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas.

Clusters of cases have emerged in prisons and detention centres as well as factories,  with the country’s single-biggest outbreak emerging from the crowded dormitories that are home to migrant workers employed by Top Glove, the world’s biggest manufacturer of medical gloves.

Vaccination schedule

State news agency Bernama said Muhyiddin, who is 73 and was treated for pancreatic cancer two years ago, would be among the first to receive the jab in an attempt to boost public confidence in the vaccination. Front liners and other high-risk groups, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, will also be first in line.

Khairy says the vaccination schedule, which the government hopes to announce in January, also depends on the approval and registration by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA). The authorities are aiming to secure sufficient stock to cover Malaysians, as well as non-citizens who live and work in the country, he said.

An outbreak of COVID-19 linked to workers at the world’s biggest glove manufacturer has become Malaysia’s biggest cluster of cases [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Under the Pfizer deal, Malaysia expects to receive one million doses in the first quarter of 2021, with vaccinations expected to begin in February. The remaining doses of the vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage, will arrive in subsequent quarters.

Neighbouring Singapore took delivery of its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

Malaysia reported 2,018 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the third-highest recorded daily infections since the pandemic began in January. Total cases now stand at 95,327 and 438 people have died from COVID-19.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies