Expert: Single-shot J&J vaccine a welcome relief

PETALING JAYA: Access to a variety of vaccines makes fighting the Covid-19 pandemic that much easier and health experts are hoping that more people in the country can get their immunisation sooner.

Universiti Malaya occupational and public health expert Prof Dr Victor Hoe said having more choices of vaccines was good for the country.

He was responding to news that the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine had met the requirements for emergency use in the United States and will be approved soon.

“As we know there are different variants of the SARS-Cov-2 from different regions of the world, and some vaccines are more efficacious against certain variants. It will be good for the country and globally to have access to various vaccines, ” he said.

Dr Hoe added that the public should not be too concerned about which vaccine they would get, noting that the vaccine would have to go through an approval process by the Health Ministry’s National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA).

“We should just take whatever vaccine that is available for us, as all the vaccines have gone through extensive clinical trials and have been found to be safe and effective against Covid-19, ” he added.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the imminent approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was a “very encouraging” development.

“A single dose vaccine is easier and will result in faster implementation too, ” he said yesterday.

According to media reports, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel had said that the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 single-dose vaccine had proved safe and effective in a clinical trial.

This development is said to pave the way for the approval of the vaccine after the US FDA meets today.

In stage three of the pharmaceutical company’s vaccine trial, the vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe cases of Covid-19,28 days after vaccination with the onset of protection observed as early as day 14.

The protection levels against moderate to severe Covid-19 infection was 72% in the United States, 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa, where a new variant of the virus was spreading.

The vaccine will be produced at the Johnson & Johnson facility in Netherlands, as well as in the US and Italy.

The vaccine can be stored in regular refrigerators while the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine must be stored in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures between -80ºC and -60ºC for up to six months.

“We estimate at launch that our vaccine will remain stable for a maximum of two years at -20°C, and a maximum of three months of which can be at temperatures of -8°C. This makes the vaccine candidate compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels and would not require new infrastructure to get it to the people who need it, ” Johnson & Johnson Malaysia managing director Chin Keat Chyuan told The Star.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said last week the government was in discussions with the US multinational to finalise the procurement of the vaccine.

He said that the Cabinet had given its approval for the procurement, following a recommendation by the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee.

The vaccine will have to be sent to the NPRA to be evaluated.

So far, Malaysia has agreed to procure Covid-19 vaccines from five companies: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, CanSinoBIO and Sputnik V.

Only Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has received NPRA approval, while the rest are still under evaluation.

The government started its national vaccination programme on Wednesday with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has reported efficacy rates of 94% in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections after the second dose.

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia’s president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh believes that as our borders are still closed, there are no concerns that different variants, such as the South Africa variant, might spread in the country.

However, he said problems might arise when borders are reopened to the world.

“Once everyone is vaccinated, perhaps then it will be a bit easier.

“But we also need to be careful of those who are not vaccinated.

“What are the protocols for those who are vaccinated and those who are not? That I believe will be for the government to decide based on their guidelines and the international guidelines, ” he said.

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