What Is The Government’s Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan To Make Sure No One Is Left Behind Especially In Rural Areas?

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Press Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The recent news of the approval of Pfeizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom(UK) and even plans to distribute it in their country as early as next week definitely comes as an exciting news as Malaysia ourselves has also signed a preliminary purchasing agreement with Pfizer to buy 12.8 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine. While this is indeed news that is highly welcomed, but the government must indeed be transparent on their plans in terms of logistics, distribution infrastructures, equity, and even proper education to prevent misinformation, confusion, and hesitancy.

First and foremost, we must not be overly carried away by the announcement and let our guards down as a vaccine isn’t a silver bullet to the pandemic, especially since the announcement also states that the doses will be spread out throughout next year, with Pfizer only delivering one million doses (for 500,000 people) to Malaysia by the first quarter of 2021. In total, the deal involves 12.8 million doses of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, a two-dose regimen, will cover about 6.4 million Malaysians which is about 20% of the population.

On top of that, an additional 10% of the population will be covered through the agreement Malaysia signed with the COVAX Facility, although they have yet to indicate whose vaccines in the Covax portfolio that they will be purchasing.

This means, by the end of 2021, just under a third of Malaysia’s population may be vaccinated against Covid-19, which is still a long way to achieve herd immunity, which requires about 70% of the population to acquire some form of antibodies.

So this raise the question on how the government intends to fill in the gap to reach that 70% target, how many other companies are they negotiating with, how much is it expected to cost and what is the timeline that we are looking at so that the public are aware and not develop as sense of false security when the vaccine is first distributed in the community.

While based on the Ministers answers recently, as part of the deal Pfizer is to handle the shipment and delivery of their vaccine as it requires ultra-cold storage of -70 degrees’ Celsius, but the Ministry must clarify does this includes delivering it all the way to the targeted user, not just shipping it to one central location in Malaysia or even just the main cities.

This of course poses problems in our tropical weather especially target groups in the rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak and even in West Malaysia where there may not be proper infrastructures including ultra-cold freezers for such specialized distributions.

While there are ultra-low temperature freezers in universities and research institutes, are they sufficient to cater for a nationwide distribution especially in the rural areas?

How do the government intend to make sure that no one if left behind when receiving such vaccines regardless of their demographics?

If there is a issue with improper storage, it could make the mRNA vaccine unusable, with analysts projecting that about 5 to 10 per cent of the Pfizer vaccine could be made ineffective “due to inadequate storage conditions”.

Some of this waste could go undetected too, leading to people getting ineffective shots and insufficient protection from the corona virus.

On top of that, this Pfeizer Vaccine is a 2-dose regimen vaccine, taken about2-3 weeks apart. How do we help those especially the elderly and those living in the rural in terms of logistics to make sure they are complaint and return back to take the second dosage? How will be the storage of the vaccine be done for the period in between especially in the rural areas?

We do not want them to take one dosage and not return for the second which may defeat the purpose of the vaccine itself as the user may not develop the required amount of antibody.

Another question the Ministry may have to answer is who are the initial intended target are for the first batch of the vaccine?

While it is generally understood that it should be reserved for front liners, but I believe different considerations should be taken into including our epidemiology data on most affected population including the elderly with pre-existing conditions or high-risk and vulnerable population group, since there is where most death occurs.

On top of that, while waiting for the required scientific data for the vaccine to be approved by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) under the Ministry of Health (MOH), the government should be starting proper communication now to educate the public of the importance of such vaccine to prevent misinformation, confusion, and hesitancy. Resources should be allocated to properly educate and fight misinformation and pseudoscience which may increase vaccine hesitancy which will affect its distributions.

All these will required a whole of-society approach, that is why the National Vaccine Roadmap that is being developed by the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation(MOSTI) must include different research institutes, medical fraternities including the private practice and even elected representatives from across the political divide so that there is a joint collaboration to exemplify and coordinate communications to make sure this vaccine reaches its intended target and that no one get left behind regardless of their status, demographics or background.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching