Vaccine fight now a domestic affair

The fight for Covid-19 vaccine is heating up on the home front – not just internationally – and Pharmaniaga Bhd seems to be at the centre of the domestic affair.

(The Edge Markets) – News that Penang has secured two million doses of Sinovac for free from a private company but barred by the Federal Government from using them, while Sarawak has reportedly received approval to procure up to one million Sinovac vaccines, are raising eyebrows. Selangor, meanwhile, is offering companies vaccines for a price to speed up the vaccination among their workers.

All states in Malaysia are allowed to undertake their own vaccine supply purchases, provided the vaccines must first be approved by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), said Coordinating Minister for National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, Khairy Jamaluddin, in a statement yesterday.

Khairy, who is also the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, acknowledged there are some states that have already initiated their vaccine supply acquisition efforts.

“However, the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force noted that the types of vaccines that these states are trying to obtain, for example the state of Selangor, are currently from the same pharmaceutical companies purchased under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK),” he said.

Under the terms of agreement between the government of Malaysia and the vaccine manufacturers, Khairy said the supply of vaccine ordered by the federal government will be prioritised before any vaccine supply can be distributed by pharmaceutical companies to any other parties including state governments, industry players and private hospitals.

Khairy’s statement came on the heels of Penang’s announcement on the same day that the state had been offered Sinovac vaccines for free, but that it could not do anything with them as the federal government was standing in the way. This is because the Ministry of Health (MOH) had denied permission for the state to use the vaccines and was told to wait instead for PICK to be rolled out, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow was quoted as saying.

Chow said the private company had offered to donate the two million doses of Sinovac in February, whereupon the Penang government had written to the MoH for approval to accept the vaccines. “The secretary-general replied in a letter on March 12 rejecting our application,” Chow told reporters in Komtar, according to Malay Mail.

Chow was also quoted as saying that the Sinovac vaccine was not approved yet back in February, but now that it has been approved, the Federal Government should allow Penang to accept the donation. “If we accept the donated vaccines, we can immediately administer it to everyone in Penang and achieve herd immunity faster,” he said, adding that the MoH can then channel its intended supply for Penang to other states.

Bukit Mertajam member of Parliament and former deputy youth and sports minister Steven Sim has also raised his concerns about the issue. “This raises the question of how Sarawak can get the federal government’s approval to buy their supplies, when Penang does not receive the same approval,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, state executive councillor for public health Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud announced on Monday that Selangor employers could now purchase Covid-19 immunisation jabs for their workers via the state’s SELangkah app, and that the registration for this is now open. However, it is unclear as to which vaccine will be used under this programme.

The Selangor and Penang state governments are under the Pakatan Harapan coalition. Sarawak, on the other hand, is under Gabungan Parti Sarawak, an ally of the Perikatan Nasional government.

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