‘Vaccine will likely be ready in 2021’

PETALING JAYA: Many Malaysians think a Covid-19 vaccine will be available to them before the end of the year but health experts believe the vaccine will only be ready in 2021.

The experts also felt that Malaysia would have to raise its “vaccine diplomacy” with the manufacturers and other countries to be given priority on the prized item.

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said the chances of Malaysians getting a Covid-19 vaccine would be at the end of next year.

“As far as priority is concerned, all manufacturers would favour their own country while the rich and developed nations have already purchased large amounts for their citizens.

“Since we don’t have the money to buy (the vaccine) and we are not manufacturing it, we are basically among the last in the pecking order,” he said yesterday.

Dr Sazaly said the government needs to improve its vaccine diplomacy with the manufacturers and other countries by offering Malaysia as the location to produce the vaccine.

He also said Malaysia faces a dilemma in purchasing the vaccines upfront as there were no guarantees it would work and whether there would be a refund if it doesn’t.

“The country should continue what it has been doing best to ensure that there is no uncontrolled spread of the virus,” he said.

A study by Ipsos Malaysia showed that 48% of Malaysians surveyed think a vaccine would be available to them, which makes them more optimistic than the global average of 41%.

China was the most optimistic at 87% followed by Saudi Arabia (75%) and India (74%) while most Western countries were less optimistic with France at 40%, the United States at 34%, Britain at 31% and Australia 27%. Japan was also less optimistic at 22%.

The study was conducted via the Ipsos Online Panel from July 4 to Aug 7 among 19,519 adults aged 16 to 74 across 27 countries.

The market research company also found that irrespective of socio-economic background, 85% of Malaysians felt that they would have access to the vaccine once it becomes available, which was higher than the global average of 74%.

The Chinese were the most optimistic with 97% while the least optimistic were the Russians at 54%.

On concerns about the side effects and doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the survey found that 48% of Malaysians were worried about it while 33% of Malaysians think the vaccine would not be effective.

Another 35% think they are not at risk of the pandemic while 7% were against vaccines in general.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said it was possible for a vaccine to be available by this year but it would depend on the regulatory agencies.

“There are half a dozen candidate vaccines in Phase 3 trials but because of the nature of the vaccines, the trial evaluation takes time. What level of evidence will be acceptable to regulatory agencies will decide which vaccines will be approved first,” he said.

As such, he said the earliest the country would see an approved safe and effective vaccine would be next year.

Dr Awang Bulgilba also said with many developed nations bulk purchasing the vaccines in advance, it was a cause for concern and vaccine diplomacy would play a crucial role.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar opined that a wide-base community testing would only happen in 2021.

“It may be available for limited communities in certain countries but not for mass immunisation. The vaccine needs to undergo human testing in reasonable numbers and conditions,” he said.

Dr Zainal added that the government should start planning how to acquire the vaccine, adding that its budget and from which manufacturer, should be looked into.

“We also have to collaborate with the World Health Organisation to ensure equal access,” he said.

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