COVID-19 vaccines’ expiry date can be extended… really? (Part 1)

Letter to Editor

DR Siti Mariah Mahmud, the state exco of Selangor in charge of healthcare, once told me during the COVID-19 pandemic that Selangor was begging for the vaccines. 

Without her permission, I have to tell my side of the story so that the Sultan of Selangor understands that the Selangor State Exco whom I respect a lot had worked very hard during the pandemic to deserve at least a credit mention. 

She will pass on her state seat to her successor in the upcoming state election, but I hope more clones of Dr Siti can be produced. 

If His Royal Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah would like a candidate whom he can honour, it is Dr Siti. Although we have not met in person, I could see that we have an altruistic politician who cares for the people. 

Over the phone, we discussed how to solve the problem in Selangor so that people could be protected against COVID-19.  

I was, at that point in time, helping an NGO to get their approval to set up a COVID-19 quarantine centre, which I will also elaborate here in this piece because they are related. 

I told Dr Siti that the better solution is to get clinics to carry out the vaccination, instead of having the mass vaccination done in an enclosed air-conditioned environment where the same air is recycled. 

The network of clinics that we have has a wider reach compared to the centralised vaccination centres.  

We also discussed the use of mobile clinics which was suggested by a former cabinet minister. 

Dr Siti told me that the state was unable to get enough vaccines. It is not the infrastructure but the amount of vaccines given to the state which Sultan Sharafuddin, I believe, has touched on now that we know some 3 million doses may be discarded. 

Extended expiry? 

I would like to ask Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah a few questions in public, since he has made a statement saying that “the shelf life of COVID-19 vaccines used in Malaysia has been extended after the manufacturing company submitted new data on the stability of the vaccine.” (The Edge Markets) 

I am sure these are some of the questions that the public wants to know the answers to as well.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the propaganda that we have been bombarded with from both ends of the spectrum, has already raised doubts about the integrity of the sources of data we are provided with. 

Before the disclosure by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, everything was kept silent. As the DG, shouldn’t Dr Noor Hisham be the one to raise the red flag when the wastage was of such a big quantum? Why the delay? 

We certainly do not expect his job as merely “a highly-paid reporter on COVID-19 statistics”, just to borrow a quote from a friend. 

Was Dr Noor Hisham unaware of the expiry date of these vaccines all along? What if Anwar hadn’t raised the red flag?  

Would these vaccines been disposed of when they could have been used by the people, or at least sent to other third world countries that need them badly? 

Over the past six months, was there any major campaigns carried out to urge people to go for their booster shots? Or were we waiting for another pandemic scare before a campaign is organised to utilise these vaccines before the expiry date? 

This has to do with the issue of procurement. I would like to know if an audit has been set up by the auditor-general’s office because I remember every year, the reports seem to tell us that there is a lot of wastages but little efforts have been undertaken to address these issues in the first place. 

I am not familiar with the vaccines but having been told that the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has given conditional approval for the vaccines to be extended by another six months raises more questions.  

May I suggest a task force be set up with the help of independent medical researchers to assess the data as claimed? I am sure without some form of assurance, many of us would still have some qualms about having the booster jabs. 

I wish all other perishables could have their expiry dates extended as I have just discarded half a bottle of oyster sauce yesterday because it was already foaming. – Jan 11, 2023 


Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur 

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main photo credit: Reuters

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