Crushed by COVID, Malaysia now has one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates

By , in COVID19 Nation on .

KUALA LUMPUR, 15 JULY –: Six weeks after entering a nationwide lockdown, Malaysia is in a state of paralysis.

Hospitals and their staff are overwhelmed, the economy is reeling and the infection rate has continued to climb, reaching a level twice that even of COVID-ravaged Indonesia on a per capita basis.

Amid the death and despondency in the south-east Asian nation of 32 million, however, there is one silver lining.

Malaysia now boasts one of the fastest vaccination rates in the world, doling out more than 400,000 doses a day, out-performed in the past week only by Canada among countries of a similar size or greater – and double the pace of Australia.

Khairy Jamaluddin, the Minister for Science, Technology, and Innovation in charge of the rollout, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that the government had been able to accelerate inoculation after two months ago renegotiating the supply and delivery of the vaccines it has purchased, 70 percent of which are Pfizer.

“Most of our portfolio is Pfizer and then we spread our bets,” he said. “We decided early on that it would be dangerous to put our eggs in one or two baskets.

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“I think we are at the stage now where we really need to vaccinate ourselves out of the situation that we have found ourselves in.”

Aside from Pfizer, Malaysia has also sourced doses from China’s Sinovac, AstraZeneca, and the single-shot Chinese vaccine CanSino, as well as others via the UN’s COVAX vaccine facility.

After a slow start, a quarter of the population has now received at least one dose, and Malaysia’s target of having 40 percent of adults fully vaccinated by the end of August and 60 percent by the end of September could be achieved if suppliers meet their commitments.

Under Malaysia’s renegotiated deal with Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant is sending 25 million doses between this month and September, Khairy said.

The scale of the outbreak has helped offset another obstacle, vaccine hesitancy, as the country’s pandemic death toll rose to 6503 on Wednesday and new infections hit another daily record of 11,618.

“I think no response has been perfect anywhere in the world,” Khairy said.

“Countries which were successful at suppressing and containing cases have seen their bubble burst. And I think if you look at countries which are doing well, now, you can arguably say that they were doing much, much worse before and they’ve been saved by early arrivals of vaccines.

“Of course, we could have done certain things better. And also, after a while, it’s very difficult to get the public to adhere to the [restrictions] simply because of fatigue. And I’m not blaming the public here. Because to observe these very, very unnatural limitations and restrictions on your behavior or your movements [is difficult]. Eventually, there will be a time where people just let their guard down.”

Khairy admits that headlines about government ministers flouting the rules have damaged the credibility of the latest lockdown, saying “leadership by example is very important”.

“I think on that score, we have made some errors there,” he said.

Muhyiddin was also been prompted to recall parliament, which has been suspended since a state of emergency was declared in January, on July 26 at the urging of King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.

The situation has brought out the best in many Malaysians, with thousands coming to the aid of those appealing for food and cash to pay the rent.

But Dr. Hartini Zainudin, a child-rights activist who is helping to coordinate assistance, said “this lockdown has been horrible” for those who have fallen into unemployment.

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