Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination starting earlier, on Wednesday Feb 24

SEPANG, 21 Feb 2021:

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah will be among the first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine when the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme is rolled out on Wednesday Feb 24 – ahead of schedule, said Khairy Jamaluddin.

The Coordinating Minister for National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme said the government had decided to kick off the first phase of the vaccination programme on Feb 24 instead of the earlier scheduled Feb 26.

“We have decided to bring forward the Covid-19 immunisation rollout to Wednesday Feb 24, with the prime minister and health director-general to get their first vaccine jab at the Putrajaya Health Clinic,” he told a press conference after witnessing the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine here today.

Medical and non-medical frontliners will join Muhyiddin and Dr Noor Hisham to be vaccinated on the same day, he added.

Khairy said the efficiency and preparedness of the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) and the Pharmacy Division of the Health Ministry (MoH) in ensuring the smooth delivery and receipt of the vaccine had made it possible for the immunisation programme to be launched earlier.

“We now realise we can launch it earlier although we had initially expected to take several days to deliver the vaccine to the vaccine storage centres. NPRA also has to assess the log list for every delivery of the vaccine; they have to check to ensure there are no defects.

“But when we saw the efficiency of NPRA, (and) the Pharmacy Division of MoH and found that everyone is ready after inspecting the vaccine storage centres, the prime minister said, ‘let’s start early, there is no need to wait until Friday (Feb 26),” said Khairy, who is also Science, Technology and Innovation Minister.

He said 271,802 frontliners had registered for the vaccination programme – 57.3% of them are medical and health personnel while 42.7% are from other sectors like the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Malaysian Volunteer Department, Prisons Department, Royal Malaysian Customs Department, and Fire and Rescue Department.

PDRM is providing security escort for every movement of Covid-19 vaccine that arrives in the country, said the Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order Department (Operations) deputy director Datuk Azri Ahmad.

For the arrival of the first batch of Covid-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine today, a total of 150 PDRM personnel were involved in accompanying 312,390 doses of the vaccine, as well as PDRM assets – such as high-powered motorcycles, police patrol cars and mobile police stations.

He said the first batch of vaccine, after arriving in the country via KL International Airport, will be sent to three locations of Vaccine Storage Centers (VSCs) owned by logistics company DHL – in Subang, Selangor; Bayan Lepas, Penang and Senai, Johor.

The vaccine delivery movement to 16 VSCs owned by MoH in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang and Johor will start tomorrow, he said.

“PDRM has identified safe routes for the vaccine with police personnel from various departments including traffic and special branches, will be involved in this assignment.”

Apart from being involved in the task of providing security escort throughout the vaccine movement, PDRM will also monitor VSCs owned by the logistics company and MoH by placing personnel and mobile police stations, he said.

Azri said PDRM would also always make an assessment of the possible threats during the movement and storage of the vaccine.

“We consider this a very important task because the country is waiting its turn to get the vaccine which is very important to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Selangor deputy police chief Datuk Arjunaidi Mohamed said there was no need for the roads in Selangor to be closed to provide security control over the vaccine movement.

“Preparations to ensure the safety of the vaccine have been made with strict control by the police, and there is no need to do road closures.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine for Covid-19 requires ultra-cold storage at -70°C – which has to be maintained throughout the cold chain delivery for the vaccine to retain its potency when administered.

In comparison, the coldest place on Earth currently is the South Pole in Antarctica, where temperatures are currently sitting around -38°C, while the standard temperature for freezers commonly used in houses is -18°C.

This poses logistical and distribution challenges in a tropical country like Malaysia. Thus, the government purchased 55 ultra-low temperature freezers to store the vaccine vials at a cost of RM16.6 million, Khairy had said.

Metrologist at the National Metrology Institute of Malaysia, Sirim Bhd, Nurulaini Md Ali said the temperature needs to be monitored all the time until the vaccine reaches the recipients as the genetic material in it is extremely sensitive to change and needs to be stored within a strict temperature range, in ultra-cold freezers.

“The cold chain begins at the manufacturing process and right through delivery to the recipient countries, storage centres until administered to those needing the vaccine. It must be ensured that there is no failure (in maintaining the temperature) along the chain.”

She added that for long term storage, the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine must be kept in freezers with the temperature range at -80°C to -70°C – warmed up to 2⁰C to 8⁰C being the range in preparation for the vaccine to be injected into individuals, and at this stage it can only last five days.

Pharmaceutical partners Pfizer and BioNTech said the companies have conducted a new study that indicates the Covid-19 vaccine can remain effective when stored in standard freezers for up to two weeks.

In a statement posted on Pfizer’s website, the companies said the new data has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration, demonstrating their Covid-19 vaccine is stable when stored at -25°C to -15°C, temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators.

Malaysia will not encounter difficulties in storing the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine which arrive today, said Health deputy director-general (Research and Technical Support) Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim.

He said MoH is fully prepared for the vaccine distribution and MoH Pharmaceutical Services Division would take care of the logistics and ensure the vaccines are stored properly.

“MoH’s procurement division has also received supply of 55 freezers to store the vaccines and they have been placed at the vaccine storage centres which have been identified,” he had said on Thursday.

Dr Hishamshah said existing storage boxes with ultra-low temperature have been placed at MoH vaccine storage and Malaysian Armed Forces facilities and these would be additional storage space for the vaccines.

Detailed preparations carried out earlier which included dry runs on the delivery of the vaccines to storage facilities and to other states went smoothly, and training was also given to health workers who would be administering the vaccine, he said.

– Bernama