A healthcare watchdog has defended the government from criticism of its effort to secure COVID-19 vaccines, calling most of the attacks baseless “misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories” by “opportunists”.
Among those found spreading the false information were politicians, noted the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy that expressed concern over the potential for such attacks to undermine and erode public confidence in ongoing efforts to secure safe and effective vaccines.
The group’s chief executive, Azrul Mohd Khalib, said the detractors have taken to attacking the government’s vaccine procurement strategy, with allegations ranging from overpaying to misleading the public on how much will be spent on these life-saving therapies.
“While much of the confusion is due to the complexity of pharmaceutical procurement, a large portion of the attacks have been based on misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories which continue to persist in the face of facts,” Azrul said in a statement issued today.
“Close scrutiny is necessary when public funds are concerned. However, opportunists including anti-vaxxers in Malaysia, have jumped on the vaccine issue and politicised it,” he added.
Much of the criticism had intensified in the wake of Belgium’s Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker’s revelation of vaccine prices, the centre suggested.
This has furled, among others, rumours that the Malaysian government was overpaying for its own batch of vaccines, estimated for delivery by next year.
Azrul called the criticism, which suggested Belgium was paying less for its vaccines, misplaced and inaccurate, and that the detractors had possibly misrepresented “either deliberately or due to ignorance.”
“The list of vaccine prices recently shared by the Belgium minister is for the European Union (EU) as a bloc, which has a population of 447 million, larger than the entire US population,” he said.
“(But) it is not pricing just for Belgium. The EU pricing is also for a single dose,” he added.
Based on news reports, Belgium will purchase more than 33 million doses for a total of €279 million (around RM1.38 billion) for their population of 12 million.
With the exception of the Johnson & Johnson candidate, the vaccines require two doses to be effective, the centre noted.
“Volume and the country’s economic status have an impact on pricing. The EU pricing also does not include vaccine logistical costs to vaccination sites,” Azrul emphasised.
On the other hand, the Malaysian government said it would allocate RM3 billion for the vaccines, which is expected to cover at least 70 per cent of its 33 million population.
Critics had alleged that the RM3 billion would secure just 10 million vaccines.
“Based on publicly available information, 12.8 million doses (enough for 6.4 million people) of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be procured. 6.4 million doses each from the Covax initiative and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, when combined (12.8 million doses) will protect 20 percent of the population,” the group said.
“With these three vaccines, around 40 per cent of the Malaysian population can expect to be vaccinated in 2021.”
Azrul claimed the protest and deliberate misinformation are also as a result of middle men or tender agents being excluded from these vaccine deals.
“This is what happens when the government deals directly with the supplier and no middle men such as tender agents are involved,” he said.
“A lot of public money is saved, the cost involved is reduced significantly. The COVID-19 public health emergency has disrupted the usual method of government pharmaceutical procurement, and we hope that this could be a model for the future.”
The Galen Centre commended the government for negotiating directly with the pharmaceutical companies concerned.
This morning, the government disclosed that it has secured vaccine coverage for another 10 per cent of the population and was on track to procure enough doses to vaccinate over 80 per cent of Malaysia at an estimated cost of RM2.05 billion. — Malay Mail
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