Khairy: Future pandemics will happen; govt must be prepared for the next one

·3-min read
Khairy said if the virus does end up becoming endemic, the administration would then have to adjust and re-strategise accordingly. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Khairy said if the virus does end up becoming endemic, the administration would then have to adjust and re-strategise accordingly. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — Malaysia must dedicate more resources for pandemic preparedness if the country is to avoid experiencing another disaster like the one wrecked by Covid-19, said Khairy Jamaluddin.

The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) coordinating minister, when asked about lessons learnt and what can be done going forward from the pandemic, said more funds have to be spent on ensuring the country is prepared for the next such pandemic.

“If there is another epidemic or pandemic, and not if, when there is one, as there is enough data out there to say that there are hundreds if not thousands of zoonotic viruses waiting to jump from animal ecosystems to human beings, we need to be more nimble and self-sufficient.

“If I have to repeat this exercise and scramble to talk to Pfizer, get people behind the queues, it’s going to be bad for our country.

“I think we really need to look at pandemic preparedness going forward,” he said.

Among the steps he said that can be taken is for pharmaceutical companies to invest in assets that will allow them to develop or manufacture vaccines for the country to be more self-sustainable when another health crisis hits, beyond the current fill-and-finish capabilities of local company Pharmaniaga Berhad.

When asked about the government’s long-term plan and whether it can bear the costs of providing free Covid-19 vaccines if boosters are required, Khairy said if the virus does end up becoming endemic, the administration would then have to adjust and re-strategise accordingly.

“We’ve bought enough vaccines for 130 per cent of our population so that means we have a buffer stock that can essentially give boosters to those who got vaccinated very early.

“Going forward, if the mutation continues to be aggressive and stubborn and this ends up becoming endemic then we need to have a strategy much like we have flu shots in countries which administer flu shots.

“That is where the government has to sit down and decide on a procurement strategy; we cannot probably afford to do this a second time around,” adding that approximately RM5 billion has already been spent under the NIP.

He said among the feasible measures that can be taken is for the government to subsidise the retail prices of vaccine shots, and maybe providing it free for those in the B40 and M40 brackets.

“We will also look at private orders for people who can afford it and open it up to the private sector. I suspect vaccine prices will also drop as we see many, many more vaccines come into the market,” he said.

He said as the prices continue to drop, more private entities would surely be able to procure their own stock of vaccines.

“When that happens, the private sector can buy their own, private hospitals can buy and even state governments can buy their own.

“It would become just a version of paracetamol essentially,” he said referring to the over the counter medication.

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