KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has agreed to buy 12.8 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to announce a deal with the US drugmaker after some expressed reservations over the need for ultra-cold storage.
While final trial data showed that Pfizer's vaccine is 95 per cent effective, many Asian countries are not betting on it partly due to tropical heat, remote island communities and a lack of ultra-cold freezers.
Pfizer's vaccine, jointly developed with German partner BioNTech, must be stored and transported at -70 degrees Celsius, although it can be kept in a fridge for up to five days, or up to 15 days in a thermal shipping box.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday (Nov 27) that Malaysia would prioritise "high-risk groups ... including frontliners, senior citizens, and those with non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases and diabetes".
Pfizer will deliver the first one million doses in the first quarter of 2021, with 1.7 million, 5.8 million and 4.3 million doses to follow in subsequent quarters.
The deal is expected to cover 6.4 million Malaysians, or 20 per cent of the population, with another 10 per cent to be covered under Malaysia's participation in the global COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization.
Malaysia, which will distribute the vaccine to its people for free, reported 1,109 new COVID-19 infections on Friday.
READ: Businesses and residents near Top Glove dormitories on edge, as COVID-19 cases spike among workers
The new cases bring the country's tally to 61,861 cases.
Malaysia's health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that Sabah accounted for most of the new cases, with 441, followed by 175 from Selangor and 167 from Negeri Sembilan.
The Teratai cluster, which is linked to workers from the Top Glove factory, was cited as the main reason for Malaysia’s daily four-figure COVID-19 cases.
The cluster, announced on Nov 7, involves the districts of Klang, Petaling and Hulu Langat in Selangor.
Two more deaths were also announced, bringing the total fatalities to 350. There are currently 113 cases in the intensive care unit, with 41 requiring respiratory aid.
Malaysia also recorded another 1,148 recoveries on Friday.
The country is also planning to run a Phase 3 trial of an experimental vaccine developed by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. The trial will involve 3,000 participants.
Pfizer's vaccine still requires approvals from regulators, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Malaysia's Health Ministry before it can be distributed, Muhyiddin said during a televised address.
The FDA has a meeting planned on Dec 10 to discuss whether to authorise the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use.
Pfizer and BioNTech have supply deals with several countries including the United States, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia and Britain.
They expect to produce globally up to 50 million doses of vaccines in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
More than 150 potential vaccines are being developed and tested globally to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, with 48 in human trials, the WHO says.
This week AstraZeneca said its vaccine developed by Oxford University could be around 90 per cent effective, following positive results from Pfizer, Moderna and Russia's Sputnik V.