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A technician works during a test run of the fill-and-finish process for CanSino vaccines at a Solution Biologics factory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on September 8, 2021. Photo: Xinhua

LettersHow Malaysia can help the world achieve vaccine equity

  • Low-income countries continue to be under-vaccinated in the third year of the pandemic
  • Malaysia is contributing to the global vaccine drive as a donor and a manufacturer, and it can offer training in aid of vaccine roll-outs overseas
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As we enter the third year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine inequity remains one of the greatest threats to economic recovery. Low-income countries have been lagging far behind in terms of Covid-19 vaccination rates. According to the UNDP’s Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, only a meagre 21.4 per cent of populations in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose as of August 10, as compared to 72.3 per cent in high-income countries.

Worryingly, years of progress in pursuit of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have been reversed. The global drive for Covid-19 vaccination directly impacts the third goal of ensuring healthy lives, besides contributing to another 12 of them, as shown in our recent policy paper.

It’s time for Malaysia to do more to address vaccine inequity, in line with Malaysia’s historical record of championing developing countries. Over the past year, Malaysia has donated Covid-19 vaccines to countries with low vaccination rates, such as Bangladesh, Laos and Myanmar. This noble initiative should continue.

As an aspiring global vaccine manufacturing hub, Malaysia plays a highly significant role in promoting global vaccine equity. In fact, the Institute for Medical Research at the National Institutes of Health is currently developing two types of Covid-19 vaccines – one based on the inactivated virus, and the other mRNA-based.

Moreover, Malaysian Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals is producing vaccines for animals, while Pharmaniaga LifeScience is conducting the fill-and-finish of Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccines and Solution Biologics is formulating CanSinoBIO’s Covid-19 vaccines.

Beyond a lack of supply for successful vaccination drives, low-income countries also face challenges in terms of inadequate health infrastructure, a lack of trained medical personnel, and a lack of capacity to roll out vaccination programmes. As such, Malaysia should expand its Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme to offer technical training and capacity-building programmes in aid of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in low-income countries.

As Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine programme has been largely successful despite several initial challenges, it’s high time for Malaysia to share its expertise in the procurement of vaccines, effective communication strategies, public-private healthcare partnership and vaccination of indigenous tribes, among other areas.

This will go a long way towards ensuring that no individual, no community and no country is denied the fruits of Covid-19 vaccination.

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