COVID-19: Reign in on the mad rush

By Stephen Ng

THE rush for the COVID-19 vaccine has become a hype driven by different reasons.

While everyone is eager to have a vaccine that works, some see the “mad rush” as a golden opportunity to drive up share markets.

And if I have the money, I would not mind buying the shares of some giant pharmaceutical companies which are at various stages of developing the vaccines.

But when medical decisions are made based on the wrong reasons, countless lives may end up being sacrificed on the altar of greed.

The side effects of these vaccines are still largely unknown, and while everyone is craving for the “magic potion”, I concur with Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s stand that his team would not immediately endorse Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in Malaysia.

His stand is clear that, despite the latest development, the efficacy of the vaccines has yet to be established.

So, why then the rush to announce the scheduled delivery of the vaccine, beginning January next year?

Health Ministry has every reason to collect more test data of the vaccine’s efficacy and its side-effects from its counterpart, after it has been administered in the United Kingdom.

Until then, can such a decision be rushed when bad decisions could lead to more harm than good?

Notwithstanding that a full scale Phase 3 clinical test data have yet to be obtained from any vaccine manufacturer, the natural question everyone would ask is; why the purchase and scheduled delivery was clearly spelt out?

And would any Government set aside a huge sum of money to purchase 12.8 million doses of the said vaccine to immunise 20% of the population?

I also question the RM3 bil figure reported by certain media saying that this amount was allocated “to gain enough COVID-19 vaccines to immunise 6.4 million of the population.

Make decisions using facts

To me, unless Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin are upfront on how the money is going to be spent, this RM3 bil price tag raises more questions than answers.

By that estimate, it would add up to a whooping figure of RM15 bil for a population of 32 million. It is better, therefore, for both Muhyiddin and Khairy to come clean on the details.

According to statements, the said vaccination requires a two-dose regimen, and if each dose is less than RM100 as claimed by Khairy, would it not require around RM1.28 bil?

And that is still a huge amount of money to one manufacturer, when there are supposed to be a dozen others still in negotiation.

Under the present economic situation, there should be greater transparency in agreements signed by the Government with any party since huge sums of money are involved. Human lives are also at stake.

Among other concerns include the vaccine’s mRNA origins, which is known to be less stable compared to the DNA module; hence, requiring ultra-low temperatures to store these two vaccines developed by Pfizer.

How sure are we that the mRNA type vaccines, that raise concerns within the medical fraternity, are more efficacious than the conventional vaccines being developed which do not require temperatures as low as minus 72°C?

Would any malfunction of the storage facilities, for example, be covered by any manufacturers’ guarantees? Or, would the Government absorb costs for the ultra-low temperature storage facilities?

Most of the people who will be the first to be vaccinated are frontliners, and many are probably known personally to the Noor Hisham.

Learn from other nations

Under the present scenario, wouldn’t the Government be more to learn from other nations such as New Zealand on how they managed to put COVID-19 under control? What vaccines did they use, for example, to contain the outbreak in Wuhan, China – conventional or mRNA type vaccines?

Every single Sen should be concentrated on delivering the right solution at the lowest cost possible during this pandemic, instead of purchasing facilities that will be required to store the mRNA vaccines at such low temperatures.

Hadassah-University Medical Center director of the clinical research unit at Prof Yossi Karko has cautioned that “the data published by Moderna and Pfizer about their coronavirus vaccine candidates is limited.”

The professor added: “We do expect that the vaccine will protect us for a longer period of time, but this data is not available.”

While everyone is looking forward to a vaccine, I think any reporting of Muhyiddin’s announcement should be made with the caveat highlighted in bold, that these vaccines must first be registrable with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA). Period.

Otherwise, read in isolation, the statement “one million doses in the first quarter of next year, 1.7 million doses in the second quarter, 5.8 million in the third quarter, and 4.3 million doses in the fourth quarter” would only raise alarm.

Such a message sends a wrong message to the Malaysian public and it certainly raises concerns that the Prime Minister, in his enthusiasm, may have put the cart before the horse.

A clarification received minutes ago makes more sense that, although the agreement with Pfizer has been inked, it is just a pre-emptive measure to pre-book the vaccines for mass procurement before the approval is obtained from FDA and NRPA.

“Otherwise we will lag behind in purchasing and procuring the vaccine when there is sudden surge in demand and cost after the vaccine is registered,” the source said.

Politics aside, shouldn’t Khairy leave the decisions whether to purchase or not to the experts in the field instead of creating more confusion to an already anxious population seeking for a solution? – Dec 3, 2020.

 

Stephen Ng is a freelance writer

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

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