Govt urged to fully sudsidise Covid drug, be transparent in selection of recipients

PETALING JAYA: Don’t put a price tag on Covid-19 vaccines as they should be fully subsidised by the government, said Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Dr Sanjay Rampal.

“If we are serious in making vaccination a game changer for this pandemic, then it should be free for all Malaysians,“ he said.

US Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr Anthony Fauci, recently assured the American public that they will get the vaccines for free.

Sanjay said he is hopeful that Malaysia will do the same. The country has recently joined the Covax Facility, an international initiative to produce Covid vaccines.

Based on a payment mechanism released by Covax, Malaysia is expected to bear a staggering cost to procure the vaccines.

Cited by health portal CodeBlue, the Covax price per dose is US$10.55 (RM43.63) while a vaccine produced by China-owned firm Sinopharm is US$72.50 (RM300) per dose.

Malaysia would need to make an upfront payment of at least US$20.48 million (RM84.7 million) on Oct 9 if the country wants to secure 12.8 million doses to vaccinate 20% of our 32 million population on a two-dose regimen.

The Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society urged the government to keep Malaysians informed on the timeline, the vaccine’s effectiveness, its safety and durability and which target group would get vaccinated first.

“We (allow) the government the wisdom to decide, but it must be transparent. If they cannot provide it for free, then the government must explain why to avoid speculation,” said its president Amrahi Buang.

He added that it was best for Malaysia to procure different types of vaccines, noting that the country was looking at those produced by Covax and Sinopharm.

“If there are different types of vaccines available, then we would have options but the government must be transparent to avoid misinformation on the vaccines once it is available.”

Sanjay said Covax membership allows for risk-pooling of vaccine development and lowers the overall costs of vaccination and is therefore an advantage for countries with lower budgets.

However, he said vaccine development has been difficult, acknowledging the fact that the virus is constantly changing in nature and the efficacy and safety of first-generation vaccines may differ from subsequent ones.

He also said the strategic aim of vaccination is to protect vulnerable populations, preventing further propagation of the pandemic, or to maintain national security.

“Some countries have prioritised national security while others aim to target frontliners and the elderly. The population to be vaccinated will depend on the availability of the vaccine. A herd immunity of 80% would be needed to stop this pandemic. For Malaysia, where the incidence has been relatively low, we would need to vaccinate 25 million residents,” he said.