Monday, November 29, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines: a tale of the rich and greedy

Rich nations are already moving towards full vaccination while the agreements reached by low and middle-income countries for doses to be delivered up to 2023 cover half their populations, or less.

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Many experts in the industry agree that the best way for Malaysia to put an end to the Covid-19 pandemic is to go for mass vaccination and achieve herd immunity as soon as possible.

This is not something impossible to achieve given the resources the government is putting into this effort and also, the strong cooperation from the private sector.

However, from what I have read and understood thus far, one major stumbling block lies in the slow delivery of our vaccine supplies.

Malaysia has ordered a total 44.8 million doses of vaccines, which is more than sufficient to meet the demands of its population.

Unfortunately, Malaysia is not among one of the rich, powerful nations in the world and sadly, this has caused delays in the delivery of its vaccine orders.

Global reports have clearly said the main reason why smaller nations were not receiving their vaccine doses as scheduled was due to the hoarding by the rich and famous.

This is true. Reports have said that countries like Canada, Australia, the US and members of the European Union would have received enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate their populations four times over before many countries received any at all.

As poor nations led by India and South Africa, and with US support, continue to push for a temporary patent waiver that would allow them to produce the vaccines without paying for licensing, wealthy ones have brokered deals with Pfizer and Moderna to secure billions of doses by 2023.

Rich nations are already moving steadily towards full vaccination and cities are re-opening and life is getting back to pre-pandemic normal.

According to the World Health Organization, the US has already vaccinated 146 million of its 312 million population, while the UK has vaccinated 30.2 million from a 72 million population.

This is almost half of their population, while in contrast Malaysia is now at 4.6% which is only 1.47 million vaccinated.

We are not alone in this. India has only achieved 3.5%; Indonesia 4.3%; Pakistan 1.4%; and South Africa only at 0.8%.

The vaccine inequality is clearly glaring.

In recent deals, the EU secured 900 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, and reserved an option to buy 900 million more to be delivered by 2023. That gives the EU as many as three billion secured doses, or 6.6 per person, without accounting for the optioned ones.

According to reports, the US has brokered deals for 1.3 billion doses so far – five per citizen. Canada has secured 65 million Pfizer doses and optioned another 120 million. Together with the doses already purchased, this brings the country’s secured doses to over 450 million for a population of less than 40 million. The UK has agreements for over 500 million doses (about eight per person), and Australia has ordered 170 million doses for its population of 25 million.

Nations with the means are buying excess doses in case more booster shots might be necessary. Future doses might have tweaked formulations that target new variants, too, should that become a problem.

According to Unicef, which is tracking the doses distributed across the world both through Covax and other agreements, the majority of high-income countries have secured at least 350% of the doses they need (without accounting for vaccines that they have optioned but are yet to be released).

Meanwhile, the agreements reached by low and middle-income countries for doses to be delivered up to 2023 cover half their populations, or less.

Based on these facts, it is definitely not right for us to point fingers at the government and blame them altogether for the vaccination rate here.

I believe they are doing what they can and it is heartening to read that Malaysia is also now developing its own vaccines for Covid-19 amid criticism over the allegedly slow pace of its vaccination drive.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba recently said Malaysia was in the process of developing two types of Covid-19 vaccines – a ribonucleic acid (RNA) vaccine or messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine and an inactivated vaccine.

This, he said was in the hopes of helping to accelerate the country’s Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme and towards achieving Malaysia’s herd immunity goal by year-end.

A team of researchers from the ministry’s Institute for Medical Research Malaysia is in the works of developing the vaccines.

This is a commendable effort and we must support this as it concerns each and every one of us.

In the meantime, it is best for each of us to play our respective roles to help curb the pandemic rather than simply pointing fingers blindly.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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