KUALA LUMPUR: With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to plague the global market and dragging the global economy’s recovery, hope still remains high for a vaccine that can bring closure to all the uncertainties, however, developing a vaccine for a fast mutating virus is not easy.

A lot of research, tests, retests, trials and retrials have to be done before any vaccine can finally be approved for human use. Fast-tracking such processes is not an option.

Who is in the race right now to produce the most-awaited vaccine that could put an end to what people around the world are facing today?

According to the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 vaccine tracker, there are currently 51 listed companies and research centres across the globe with more than 150 vaccines in development.

Among the top names in contention are the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac, Russia’s SPUTNIK V, the US’ Johnson & Johnson, and France’s Sanofi’s.

Some nations have signed deals with big pharmaceuticals to get vaccines as early as possible, a move seen to reopen the economy to full force prior to the Covid-19 pandemic that shook the world early this year.

In the development, Indonesia has been the testing ground for China’s Covid-19 vaccine, while the European Union had made a deal with Johnson & Johnson to secure the vaccine supply of 400 million doses for an undisclosed amount.

Soon after, Beijing announced that China will be joining the $18 billion ($1 = RM4.14) COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access) initiative that aspires to give lower-income countries the same access to vaccines as wealthier nations.

However, Bloomberg reported that the details of China’s commitment, including its amount of funding, were not immediately disclosed.

“China’s participation will be a big win for COVAX as the possibility of providing doses to even a fraction of China’s 1.4 billion people would boost the critical mass, enhancing the alliance’s negotiating power,” it said.

Development So Far

Malaysia, meanwhile, through the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry announced that the nation would join COVAX, a global partnership that aims to support the development of a vaccine against the virus and share access to it.

This is the first time in history of healthcare that governments around the globe are scrambling to secure stocks of a vaccine that does not yet exist.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, in an interview with The Star, said citing an example under COVAX which are either committed purchase or optional purchase, the down payment for the latter plan to immunise just 10 per cent of the country’s population could go up to RM90 million.

“As for the committed purchase, there would be a ceiling price of $20 per vaccine or dose,” he said.

However, the Cabinet has yet to decide if the vaccine would be given to all Malaysians free of charge.

Local Pharma Companies Gear Up for Vaccine Supply

Among the top pharma companies in Malaysia, Pharmaniaga Bhd, as well as, Duopharma Biotech Bhd have geared up its presence to ensure the logistics in providing the much-awaited vaccine is in place.

Pharmaniaga group managing director Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope, when asked by Bernama, said that managing Covid-19 is of national interest and as of now the government is on the top of all matters related to the pandemic, including the vaccine.

“We have already committed to the government that once the vaccine is made available, the preparation period needs to start running the Covid-19 fill and finish line will be around three months subject to the regulatory conditions,” he said.

Duopharma, together with Pharmaniaga, is expected to take part in the fill-and-finish process of a Covid-19 vaccine, once it is developed.

Besides the two pharmaceutical giants, Apex Healthcare Bhd has also upped its game in the Covid-19 distribution to hospitals and clinics as the fill-and-finish process is just part of the entire supply chain.

The pharma company currently has vast experience in distributing about 49 types of vaccines in Malaysia and 25 types in Singapore.

As the pressure is high on vaccine hopes, pharma stocks have been on the rise and have been eyed by both retail and institutional investors since mid-July when University of Oxford/AstraZeneca announced its promising clinical trial results.

A Long Way Ahead

Despite the much-awaited solution for the pandemic, the vaccine development is already in Phase Three.  Experts have put a caution tone on the clinical trials to a widespread vaccination.

With studies showing that the vaccines developed might only cure Covid-19 early strains, continuous research and development will be constantly modified and monitored, especially involving its side effects.

While we all hope for a cure, let us remember that some of the world’s pandemics did not have a vaccine and was tackled due to herd immunity.

Like what Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said: “Let us all flatten the curve again by taking care of one another by adhering to the standard operating procedures that have been set.” – Bernama