Has Malaysia started stocking up on vials, syringes and needles in anticipation of the race to buy the Covid-19 vaccine?
Those familiar with the matter admitted there has not been any indication by the government if it has stocked up adequate medical devices as Malaysia had days ago expressed interest in joining the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) plan.
The ministry had also entered into non-disclosure agreements with several international pharmaceutical companies that are in their third phase of vaccine trials. Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca are among those that have started third phase trials.
Pharmaniaga Bhd and Duopharma Biotech Bhd, government-linked corporations with the capacity to conduct fill-finish processing, are being eyed but it is unclear if a decision has been made to date.
Also, if a vaccine is found and delivered to the appointed companies, how long will the fill-finish process take before it can be delivered to the masses?
Questions have already been raised about the vaccine once it is available in the market. They include:
- The amount of doses.
- Who (which segment of the Malaysian society) will receive the vaccine first?
- When will the full population get the vaccine?
- Will the government bear the cost for the vaccine OR will it be subsided OR will the average Malaysian be made to pay in full for the vaccination?
Putrajaya is not alone in this negotiation as other governments have been negotiating supply deals to be ready once testing is successful. The US has booked 800 million doses while Europe is setting its sights on 400 million doses.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, had in his speech at a high-level meeting to commemorate United Nations’ 75th anniversary yesterday, said that once a vaccine is found, it must be accessible to all nations and people.
“There should not be any discrimination whatsoever. We must remember that since Covid-19 does not discriminate, our response should not too.”
However, it’s not just about getting the vaccine.
“The vaccine has to be placed in vials and adequate disposable syringes and needles are needed. Judging by the current supply, there isn’t enough to go around,” said an industry expert based in Kuala Lumpur who declined to be named.
The vaccine may most likely require two doses. That would mean double of everything.
Another industry expert said: “Just do the simple maths. There are about 7.8 billion people around the world. Two doses of the vaccines would be 15.6 billion of vials, syringes and needles. That’s a whole lot of equipment required within a short time as the race to get the vaccine out intensifies.”
“Malaysia has a population of about 32 million. Even if only 20 per cent of the population gets the first batch, there needs to be 12.8 million vials, syringes and needles. And this is just for the Covid-19 vaccine alone.
“You also need such devices for other vaccines, including pneumococcal which the Malaysian government has budgeted but has yet to roll out till today.”
Another source from a company that sells medical devices said this quandary was not exclusive to Malaysia alone as many other nations have yet to buy the devices.
“Judging by the current production and supply, it would take us at least a year to supply some of the items. That’s how long it would take. Developed nations have started purchasing in bulk while others have not.”
The Canadian government, for example, had ordered 38 million needles and syringes.
Some Asian nations, including Japan, have secured the vaccine and devices for at least half of their population while many nations in the Asian and Southeast Asian regions are merely in the planning stages.
Hiccups were seen in the beginning of the year as frontliners in Malaysia and worldwide were ill-equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE). This resulted in a large number of volunteers sewing PPE suits for medical staff and other frontliners.
While volunteers helped prepare the suits, the same cannot be done with vials, stoppers, syringes or needles that require mass production under strict regulations.
It remains to be seen if Malaysia will buy such medical devices soon or spend on what could turn out to be a costly general election and let the incoming administration worry about this ordeal.