Kuala Lumpur to Seek Bangkok’s Assurance on Vaccine Supply from Thai Producer

S.Adie Zul and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-07-16
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Kuala Lumpur to Seek Bangkok’s Assurance on Vaccine Supply from Thai Producer Health workers inject a man with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at an inoculation center at the World Trade Center, in Kuala Lumpur, May 5, 2021.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia will talk to Thailand to ensure that the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine it had ordered from a Thai manufacturer would be delivered on time, the science minister said Friday, following reports that Bangkok may limit vaccine exports.

But Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s statement that Malaysia might consider ordering more of China’s Sinovac vaccine, if there was a shortfall in AstraZeneca shots, caused some confusion because of conflicting messages about the Chinese vaccine. A day earlier, the health minister said Malaysia would stop using Sinovac, but he did not specify a reason.

“We are closely monitoring the developments concerning AstraZeneca vaccine in Thailand following reports suggesting that the country may limit its export,” Khairy, the science minister who is in charge of vaccinations, said at a weekly virtual meeting.

“We will discuss this issue bilaterally with our good neighbor Thailand to ensure that there is no disruption to the supply from AstraZeneca’s plant in Thailand to Malaysia.”

AstraZeneca Thailand delivered 586,700 doses of a contracted 6.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines directly to Malaysia on July 2, the company said earlier this month.

But news reports earlier this week indicated that Thailand, which is in the midst of a huge spike in infections, may reduce exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine that local manufacturer Siam Biosciences has an agreement to produce.

BenarNews contacted Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute to verify if it planned to reduce or suspend exports, but officials at the institute did not immediately respond.

“[W]e will negotiate with the company for adequate delivery proportional to the domestic outbreak,” Nakorn Premsri, director of the institute, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Thailand had contracted to receive a third of doses the local producer makes, while Malaysia, Taiwan and reportedly the Philippines had also placed orders with the company.

Last month, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was quoted as saying that Thailand was prioritizing the locally-made AstraZeneca shots for itself, thus delaying delivery to Taiwan. He said an order expected that month had not arrived.

As of July 2, Malaysia had received a total of 2.14 million AstraZeneca doses, which included the Thai supply and donations and supplies from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, AstraZeneca said in its statement earlier this month.

As of Monday, Malaysia had received delivery of more than 19 million COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, including those donated by the United States, Japan and China, Minister Khairy said.

APEC pledges to share vaccines

On Friday, Malaysia recorded 12,541 new COVID-19 infection cases – the fourth consecutive day the country had recorded five-figure infection rates – taking the total caseload to nearly 900,000.

With 115 more patients dying from the disease Friday, total pandemic fatalities reached 6,728.

Separately, leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade bloc, or APEC, pledged on Friday to work together to expand the manufacture, supply and sharing of COVID-19 vaccines globally.

The virtual APEC meeting, chaired by New Zealand, was attended by the leaders of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, China and Russia, among other Pacific Rim countries.

“We recognize the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good,” they said in a joint statement after the meeting.

“To that end, we will redouble our efforts to expand vaccine manufacture and supply, support global vaccine sharing efforts, and encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies on mutually agreed terms.”

‘No issue with Sinovac’s efficacy’

Meanwhile, Khairy dismissed speculation that the decision to stop using Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccines was due to concerns over the shot’s efficacy.

Khairy said the country had ordered 12 million jabs of Sinovac from Pharmaniaga, and their delivery is set to be completed by the end of July.

“I wish to clarify once again that there is no issue with the Sinovac vaccines’ efficacy here because we are truly getting a completed delivery order of the vaccine from Pharmaniaga,” Khairy said, adding that he had ordered an extra 3 million from the company, which would also be delivered by July-end or early August.

In his comments on Thursday, Health Minister Adham Baba said Sinovac would no longer be part of the national COVID-19 immunization plan, but would only be given to those who had received that shot as their first one.

Thailand and Indonesia recently announced that many of their citizens would get a non-Sinovac booster jab if they had received the Chinese shot, after some people in those countries died of the coronavirus despite being inoculated with two shots of the Chinese-made vaccine.

A possible order of more Sinovac vaccines was a “back-up” plan, because Malaysian health care company Pharmaniaga already has an agreement with the Chinese company to fill and finish production of its vaccines in the country, Khairy said.

“Pharmaniaga knows that in any contingency, we may call on them to produce for the federal government,” he said.

Malaysia on Friday gave conditional approval for the private use of another Chinese vaccine, from Sinopharm, and for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Khairy said.

If there were low or no supplies of AstraZeneca shots from Thailand, Malaysia may even order Sinopharm vaccines for national use from local distributor Duopharma, the minister said.

“At the moment Sinopharm vaccine is meant for the private sector market but if there is any shortage of supply for the national immunization program, we may source the supply from Duopharma,” Khairy said.

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