Gov’t gives assurance on smooth vaccine deliveries

KUALA TERENGGANU – The government has given its assurance that the delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will proceed smoothly and arrive intact in every state including in the interior areas.

Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Ahmad Amzad Hashim said the Health Ministry had conducted a practice run at Belaga Health Clinic in Sarawak on Jan 29 to test the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.

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“I am confident if we could implement it well even in a remote area like Belaga, God willing we will not have a big problem in other areas with much better logistics,” he told reporters after handing over tablets to students in Kampung Cina here today.

Ahmad Amzad said the locations for the storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines had been identified and each state had also provided ultra low temperature freezers to store the vaccines.

“There is no problem to store the vaccine supply which will arrive tomorrow as we already have 115 ultra low temperature freezers. The government have also bought 55 more freezers with an allocation of RM2.7 million,” he said.

ATM to start receiving vaccinations

A total of 42,120 members of the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) nationwide meanwhile will receive COVID-19 vaccine injections in the first phase of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, scheduled to commence on Feb 26.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the vaccination involved 84,240 doses with each member receiving two vaccine doses.

“I believe that in March (Armed Forces personnel) will receive the vaccine as we are part of the frontliners. This also includes those who are involved in manning roadblocks and ‘Op Benteng’ operations with the police.

“The schedule (vaccination) will be set and informed to the ATM,” he told reporters after visiting the Armed Forces Family Housing (RKAT), 1st Brigade headquarters, Sikamat Camp, here today.

In the meantime, he said that for the arrival of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine tomorrow, ATM will also be involved for security control from tomorrow until the vaccination is administered to the public.

Tomorrow, Malaysia will receive 312,390 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which will be flown by Malaysia Airlines A330-300 jetliner to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Sepang, before being distributed to various vaccine storage locations nationwide.

Meanwhile, when asked whether the ATM would consider using its hospital as one of the vaccine storage centres, Ismail Sabri said that the ATM was ready to assist the government in any situation, as well as having sufficient workforce.

“Insya-Allah, we are ready to discuss with the Armed Forces Hospital, and the ATM is also very involved in COVID-19 matters, including providing the ATM field hospital in Sabah before,” he said.

Earlier, Ismail Sabri explained that today’s visit to RKAT was part of his visit to the Malaysian Army formations.

“Here I have also approved the construction of a multi-purpose hall costing RM5 million which will be built either this year or early next year, and also had the opportunity to visit four members and families suffering from illness,” he said.

Vaccine movement in detail

As the movement of the incoming vaccine is still under wraps, lets re-look at what Pfizer had said about the process of distribution to the point of use (POU) as the vaccine needs to be stored frozen after manufacture.

According to the pharmaceutical company, it will ship its vaccines largely from its Kalamazoo (Michigan, United States) and Puurs (Belgium) sites direct to the POU. Pfizer will also be using its existing distribution centres in Wisconsin, United States, and Karlsruhe, Germany.

Pfizer chairman and CEO Dr Albert Bourla, in an open letter dated Dec 15, said the company’s engineers created specially designed, temperature-controlled shipping containers or “shippers” which contain GPS temperature-enabled trackers for continuous, real-time location and temperature monitoring.

The shippers can maintain the required temperature conditions for up to 10 days unopened, making it possible to maintain vaccine integrity as these containers travel across the globe to the POU.

Pfizer control towers monitor and track all shipments round the clock to ensure each shipment gets to where it needs to go at the right time and at the right temperature and take action, if needed, along the way.

Once the shippers arrive at the POU, there are three options for storage as stated on the Pfizer website including using ultra-low-temperature freezers which can extend shelf life for up to six months.

Secondly, the Pfizer thermal shippers can also be used as temporary storage units by refilling with dry ice for up to 15 days of storage. The shippers can maintain temperature for 10 days unopened. Once opened, and if being used as temporary storage by a vaccination centre, it can then be used for a total of 15 days with re-icing every five days.

Thirdly, by using refrigeration units that are commonly available in hospitals. The vaccine can be stored for five days at refrigerated 2-8 degrees Celsius conditions. Once thawed and stored under 2-8 degrees Celsius conditions, the vials cannot be re-frozen or stored under frozen conditions, it said.

Stable at higher temperatures

Pfizer-BioNTech Friday announced the submission of new data to the US Food and Drug Administration demonstrating the stability of its vaccine when stored at -25 to -15 degrees Celsius, temperatures more commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators.

Currently, the labels for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine state that they must be stored in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures of between -80 and -60 degrees Celsius.

The vaccine, jointly developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech, a biotechnology company founded by Turkish-German couple Dr Ugur Sahin and his wife Dr Ozlem Tureci, has an efficacy rate of 95 per cent after two doses.

According to reports, among countries that have administered the vaccine are the United States, the United Kingdom, countries of the European Union, Canada, Costa Rica, Kuwait, Brazil and Singapore.

On Jan 11, an agreement for the delivery of the first phase of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech was signed between the Malaysian government, through the Health Ministry (MOH), and Pfizer (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.

The agreement involves the procurement of 12,799,800 doses of vaccine, covering 20 per cent of Malaysian population, with two doses per person.

The MOH is in talks with Pfizer to obtain another 30 per cent supply of the COVID-19 vaccine that would cover 50 per cent of population.

As of this month, Malaysia had secured access to 66.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX Facility from five producers, namely Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, sinovac, CanSinoBIO and Sputnik V.