MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Friday, August 5, 2022

Time for Malaysia to do more for global vaccine equity


From Benedict Weerasena and Abel Benjamin Lim

As we march into the third full year of the Covid-19 global pandemic, vaccine inequity looms as one of the greatest threats to global economic recovery.

Low-income countries have been lagging far behind in terms of Covid-19 vaccination rates, which exacerbates socioeconomic inequality.

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Only a meagre 20.8% of populations in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose as at Aug 3, compared to 72.2% in high-income countries.

In terms of vaccine doses, high-income and upper middle income countries have administered a total of 205.06 and 210.99 doses per 100 people respectively, while low-income countries trail far behind at 28.3 doses per 100 people, as at Aug 3.

In fact, the line representing low-income countries highlights the lagging and low rollout of Covid-19 vaccines compared to the steady increase in high-income and upper middle income countries throughout 2021.

As a result of the injustice and unfairness in the global rollout of vaccines, vaccination is projected to stretch until 2024 for populations in low-income countries – if it happens at all.

This has and will continue to adversely impact the reopening and resumption of economic activities, threatening to derail economic recovery with no clear signs of an economic rebound in the near future.

In other words, low-income countries are unable to reap the benefits of a quick and efficient rollout of vaccine programmes experienced by many high-income countries, which have helped reduce transmission, morbidity and mortality.

Worryingly, years of progress in pursuit of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in many low-income countries have been reversed.

In fact, the global drive for Covid-19 vaccination directly impacts SDG 3 regarding good health and well-being in the fight against epidemics of communicable diseases, besides contributing indirectly to another 12 out of the 17 SDGs, such as no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities, among others.

Collaborative partnerships

It’s time for Malaysia to do more to address vaccine inequity, in line with the country’s historical record of championing the plight of developing and least developed nations.

Malaysia needs to remain an active player in fostering collaborative partnerships among developing countries for greater vaccine equity. Also, consistent calls for more equitable distribution and dose delivery swapping by countries which have excess supply are important.

Take for instance how our health minister highlighted that vaccines and equity have been one of the greatest moral failings in humanity’s collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic at the World Health Organization’s 72nd regional committee meeting for the western Pacific region.

Besides that, Malaysia has identified and assisted countries through the provision of Covid-19 vaccine donations. Examples of these include Bangladesh, Laos and Myanmar, which recorded low vaccination rates.

This noble initiative should continue to be pursued by the Malaysian government to ensure that low-income countries in the region and internationally are able to vaccinate a larger number of their populations.

As an aspiring global vaccine manufacturing hub, Malaysia will play a highly significant role in promoting global vaccine equity.

In fact, the Institute for Medical Research of the National Institutes of Health is currently developing Covid-19 vaccines based on inactivated viruses and messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), representing the pinnacle of local vaccine research capabilities.

Moreover, Malaysian Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd is also actively producing vaccines for animals, while Pharmaniaga LifeScience is conducting the fill-and-finish of Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccines and Solution Biologics is planning to formulate CanSinoBIO’s Covid-19 vaccines.

These exciting new developments will certainly propel Malaysia towards being a global Covid-19 vaccine producer, which goes a long way in meeting the demand for booster shots globally.

Technology transfer and investment

In the long term, Malaysia can take the second mile by actively participating in technology transfer and investment to manufacture vaccines in many more sites around the world. This move in capacity-building in developing countries will lead to greater vaccine equity.

Beyond the supply of vaccines for successful vaccination drives, low-income countries also face challenges in terms of inadequate health infrastructure, a lack of trained medical personnel, limited tracking mechanisms, and a lack of capacity to roll out and communicate vaccination programmes.

As such, Malaysia should expand its Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme to offer technical training and capacity-building programmes in Covid-19 vaccination campaigns to low-income countries.

As Malaysia’s whole-of-government and whole-of-society’s national Covid-19 immunisation programme has been largely successful despite several initial challenges, it’s high time for Malaysia to share its expertise on the procurement of vaccines, effective communication strategies based on data and science, public-private healthcare partnership and vaccination among indigenous tribes, among others.

All in all, it’s time for Malaysia to do more to address global vaccine inequity.

As a nation which has been speaking up against injustice and inequality in the past, we need to actively champion collaborative efforts in pursuit of greater vaccine equity.

This will ensure that no individual, no community and no country is denied from reaping the fruits of the Covid-19 vaccine. - FMT

Benedict Weerasena is the research director at Bait Al Amanah, and Abel Benjamin Lim is the head of development economics.

The views expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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