PETALING JAYA: A virologist believes Malaysia should look to Asia for Covid-19 vaccines as those developed in the west have been snapped up by richer countries.
Dr Lam Sai Kit said while it was admirable that Pfizer and BioNTech had produced a vaccine with high efficacy in record time, it would be difficult for Malaysia to access them due to strong competition.
Speaking to FMT, he said with the Covid-19 cases surging in the US and Europe as winter approaches, 80% of Pfizer’s vaccines have been sold to the richest governments around the world.
“Many countries have supported the development of this vaccine financially so they will be in the front of the queue. Pfizer and BioNTech have declined to disclose the pricing for the rest of the world.
“No one manufacturer can meet the global demand for Covid-19 vaccines. At the moment, a lot of attention is being focused on vaccines developed in the US and European Union, but I feel that there is great potential in those being developed closer to home.
“There are other vaccines which are being developed in the Asia-Pacific region, and we should keep an eye on them,” he told FMT, citing China as the likely main source, and other countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, India and Australia as possible suppliers.
According to Lam, Singapore is expected to have a vaccine by early next year based on the research conducted by the Duke-National University of Singapore and Arcturus Therapeutics, an American pharmaceutical company.
“The Serum Institute of India, which is the world’s largest vaccine producer, has at least two home-grown Covid-19 vaccine candidates under development.
“China, which has several candidate vaccines in Phase Three clinical trials, and has been tested extensively in and outside of China, including Brazil, had promised to make their vaccine available globally when it is ready for application after the successful completion of the clinical trials,” he said.
He added that the Asia-Pacific region is playing a critical role in vaccine development, especially with the involvement of smaller private sector manufacturers and academic institutions too.
Lam is an internationally recognised expert on dengue and was involved in the discovery of the Nipah virus in 1998. He is currently a research consultant with Universiti Malaya and a senior fellow at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.
Malaysia had committed RM94 million upfront to take part in the Covax initiative, a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. This would guarantee vaccine supply for 10% of Malaysians.
More recently, Malaysia agreed to cooperate with China to share knowledge and expertise as well as facilitate scientific and technological capabilities to advance vaccine development in their countries.
Last month, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said it would cost Malaysia about RM600 million to source some three million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines under the Covax plan.
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