Malaysia may have escaped any serious delay to its Covid-19 vaccination plan caused by the European Union’s (EU) decision to slap export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc, as it has sourced the much needed protection against the deadly virus from several companies outside of the EU, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
The EU recently introduced measures that would see its 27 member states prioritised for the vaccines, on the back of criticism over its slow pace of vaccination.
The EU blamed it on delivery shortfalls from UK-Swedish drug-maker AstraZeneca which, in turn, blamed it on production glitches at plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.
On Friday, the European Commission, the EU’s top body, claimed there was a lack of transparency around the ways some companies are operating, and used its powers to restrict the export of vaccines outside of the territory.
“This is not an export ban. This measure would specifically target exports of Covid-19 vaccines covered by an Advance Purchase Agreement with the EU,” the commission said.
The move essentially means the EU can stop vaccine exports if the company making them fails to honour existing contracts to supply to member states.
Malaysia ‘not poor enough’ for exemption?
While the EU said not all non-EU countries would be affected by the measures, it is understood that Malaysia does not fit in a list of countries given exemption.
The EU has assured that 92 low and middle-income nations will be exempted from the restrictions.
These countries are set to benefit from Covax, a global agreement to enable poorer countries to have access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Malaysia is among 190 economies which have signed the Covax agreement, which is supported among others by The Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, with its gross national income per capita of US$10,590, it is not considered a low and middle-income economy as defined by the World Bank.
‘Safety nets’ from China, Russia
The latest EU move will affect the export of vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and Pfizer – two companies which will give Malaysia its earliest doses against the deadly virus.
Malaysia has ordered a total 19.2 million doses from the two companies, to cover 30% of the population.
Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have claimed success rates of between 60% and 90%.
They are among five vaccine producers from which Malaysia has sourced at a total price of over RM2 billion, enough to inoculate more than 80% of the population and achieve herd immunity.
The Pfizer vaccines will be the first to arrive in Malaysia next month.
This will be followed by vaccines under the Covax facility (March) and from AstraZeneca (April).
The EU has said its export restrictions will run until March 31.
“So there is a likelihood the new EU measures would mean further delays in getting Pfizer, as well as Astrazenaca, if the EU extends the export restrictions,” a government source told MalaysiaNow, adding however that details are still scarce on the impact of the EU move on Malaysia.
“In the worst scenario we will not receive the two vaccines, there is a safety net in the form of vaccines from China and Russia,” it said.
Three other vaccines have been ordered from Sinovac and CanSino (China) and Gamaleya (Russia), totalling 23.9 million doses under various regiments.
Together, they will provide inoculation for about 43% of the population. Another 10%, meanwhile, will be vaccinated under the Covax facility.
“These vaccines will not be affected by the EU ruling,” the source said.
Apart from Malaysia, the EU’s measures will also affect some 100 countries including the US, Canada and Australia.