2 Malaysian States Plan to Buy COVID-19 Vaccines amid Record Infections

S. Adie Zul and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2 Malaysian States Plan to Buy COVID-19 Vaccines amid Record Infections Medical workers from the Ministry of Health wear personal protective equipment as they bury a person who died of COVID-19 at a Muslim cemetery in Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia, May 19, 2021.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

At least two Malaysian states badly hit by COVID-19 are moving to acquire vaccines on their own to speed up the pace of inoculations, as the daily number of new infections nationwide skyrocketed past 6,000 on Wednesday, with some people calling for a complete nationwide lockdown.

Selangor’s state government said it was acquiring 2.5 million doses of vaccines days after Sarawak state said it was purchasing 1 million jabs for its residents.

“While the state government encouraged people to get the free vaccines provided by the federal government, many industry players had approached the [Selangor] government stating that they could not wait, claiming that to date, only 3.3 percent of the state population has been vaccinated,” Siti Mariah Mahmud, Selangor’s Public Health, Unity, Women and Family Development Committee chairwoman, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“This progress is too slow for a state that contributed 20 percent to the national gross domestic product (GDP). We started with wanting to purchase 2.5 million doses, but we are willing to purchase more if we need it.”

Malaysia Health Director General Noor Hisham said in a separate statement that the COVID-19 situation in the Klang Valley – Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya – is “dire” with 79 percent of total intensive care unit beds in public hospitals in these states allocated for COVID-19 cases.

“Total COVID-19 ICU admissions (including suspected/probable) in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya has increased by 94 percent compared to two weeks ago. The health care system in Klang Valley is under tremendous pressure,” he wrote on Facebook Wednesday evening.

“Frontliners are drained and fatigued. Help us, so that we are still able to help you if and when the time comes. Stay at home if you have no urgent matters outside and comply with the SOPs,” he said, referring to COVID-19 standard operating procedures.

Malaysia on Wednesday reported a daily record of 6,075 new COVID-19 cases, taking the cumulative caseload to more than 480,000. The previous national high was 5,728 cases on Jan. 30.

Health Ministry data showed that Selangor continued to record the highest number of new infections, with 2,251 on Wednesday.

Malaysia also reported 46 virus-related deaths on Wednesday, with Selangor state recording 19 of those deaths – the highest among states.

On Monday, Health Minister Adham Baba had said the ministry was considering imposing a total lockdown in Selangor should the state government fail to bring down the number of daily COVID-19 cases.

Selangor’s Siti Mariah said that the state’s business community said it would rather pay for COVID-19 vaccines than suspend its manufacturing and other operations during a total lockdown, because that would entail a greater loss.

The state’s vaccination program would not be free, she said.

Selangor’s vaccination program would administer jabs to the manufacturing sector, big corporations and small businesses, the state official said.

Siti Mariah did not say which vaccines Selangor would acquire, although Malaysia has so far approved COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The country has removed AstraZeneca’s jabs from its national immunization program, saying that only those who wanted to be inoculated with it need be administered that jab.

The Selangor official acknowledged that vaccines from one of three approved manufacturers would be available to her state only after the companies delivered their agreed-upon consignments to the federal government.

As of Tuesday, more than 2 million COVID-19 doses had been distributed nationwide, with more than 1.2 million people having been administered the first dose and close to 800,000 fully inoculated, according to government data.

So far, only 42 percent of the country’s 33 million population – or 10.2 million people – has registered for the immunization program, with a majority of them in Selangor.

‘Stricter measures’ needed

A prominent industry group rejected the idea of a total lockdown, saying a similar effort in March 2020 had a damaging impact on the economy.

Son Thian Lai, president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, said the government should institute strict health protocols to reduce new infections instead of shutting down all sectors.

“While the industry understands the need for stricter measures to be implemented, the industry is not in favor of a total lockdown such as [is] being called for [in] Selangor … because it will cost irreparable damage to our economy,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Sarawak, too, wants to go ahead with its own COVID-19 vaccination program, to expedite the process.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin greenlighted the purchase of 1 million Sinovac doses for the state, which will be bought in two equal phases.

Johari said Sarawak’s vaccination program would be free, but he did not say how much the state would pay for the vaccines.

While Sarawak, a federal government ally, got approval for its vaccination program, Selangor, which is governed by the opposition, is facing some pushback.

Khairy Jamaluddin, federal minister in charge of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program (PICK), said he did not want people to think he was preventing Selangor’s initiative, but reminded the state that the national immunization program was free.

Vaccines are controlled items, Khairy said, adding they could not be bought for import without the required purchasing documents.

“PICK is currently the only program, the vaccines [used] are recognized by the NPRA [National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency],” he said at a press conference.

“[T]he others I do not know where they are [sourced] from or when they will arrive or how much they have to pay, but PICK is the only national program we have for now and it is given for free via vaccines distribution centers.”

In addition, even if Selangor acquires vaccines approved by NPRA, bookings placed by the federal government would be prioritized by the manufacturers. He did not mention Sarawak’s Sinovac order and whether it would have equal priority as federal orders.

“While I can’t stop people from registering with the Selangor vaccination program, what I can assure you is that we probably can get [the supply] quicker but if you still want to pay money and get it later, then it is your decision. I don’t want to be seen as blocking [the initiative],” he said.


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