Good to develop our own Covid-19 vaccines

Dr Helmy Hazmi

KUCHING: Malaysia’s plan to develop its own Covid-19 vaccines is a strategic investment, said Dr Helmy Hazmi.

The Associate Professor cum public health physician, who’s currently working in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), pointed out there were many benefits that the nation could gain from the move.

He was commenting on recent reports that Malaysia had joined the global race to develop Covid-19 vaccines in the hope of accelerating the nation’s Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme and achieve the herd immunity goal by year end.

“There are many benefits that we can gain from this strategic investment. For one, as we have learned from this pandemic, we will be able to reduce our dependence on other nations for the stockpile of vaccines in the event of another pandemic.

“This is an important initial move to protect a larger group of people by achieving herd immunity as well as for economic activities to resume as quickly as possible.

“Moreover, the capability of manufacturing vaccines is a potential tool that may influence our standing in geopolitical diplomacy,” he said when contacted today (June 15).

Dr Helmy pointed out that there was no doubt that Malaysia was capable of buying expensive equipment and building labs, but the heart of the whole process should be planned and run by a capable manager who worked sincerely with sound knowledge of the local biotechnology climate.

He added that the startups would be nurturing beds for budding scientists to gain expertise in the research and development of vaccines.

“I believe we have the resources. We are not that far in terms of technology and we have the experts although their numbers are few. We also have the sequences and the mRNA technology.

“It is just a matter of pooling our resources together and optimising them which means we should not duplicate things unnecessarily. For instance, in a small country like ours, biotech institutions including those in academia are often pitted against each other to the detriment of our advancement.

“While some might call it the survival of the fittest, I personally think it is not healthy. We must remember that in the past, we thought that we could never have a heart specialist centre, but now it has flourished and become of the best heart centres in the region,” he explained.

Dr Helmy said there would be challenges in fulfilling the ambition as having a sustainable vaccine facility must be viewed as a long-term achievement that required proper planning as well as investments in human capital and facilities.

For the dream to materialise, the country must get its priorities right as well as acquire the essential software and hardware first.

“We need to understand that this is no easy feat. That is why we must laud the unveiling of the vaccine roadmap for Malaysia which might be important to get our act together.

“Of course, there will be challenges, namely in terms of human capital, the workplace and working environment. Malaysia is capable of buying expensive equipment and building labs, but we do not want to turn those high-tech places into white elephants that lack proper maintenance and care.

“It is a marathon, not a 100-metre dash. If we do well, we can already be up and running our own vaccine facility in five years’ time,” he said.