The government must immediately explain its decision to remove the Sinovac vaccine from the national immunisation programme, Lim Guan Eng said today.
The DAP secretary-general said the federal government and Covid-19 immunisation task force must explain their conflicting statements about the Chinese jabs that have caused anxiety and confusion.
“This is in view of statements by PN ministers Khairy Jamaluddin and Dr Adham Baba that Sinovac will no longer be a part of the government’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout and that the remaining Sinovac jabs will be reserved for those who need them for their second dose,” Lim said in a statement today.
The Kelantan health director had also announced the state’s intention to go solely with Pfizer at the state vaccination centres,” he added.
He said the statements had shaken public confidence in the Sinovac vaccine if not the vaccination drive itself.
Lim asked if the state governments were now allowed to pick and choose the vaccines they would use.
“If this is allowed, it will have a significant impact on (NIP) due to the unequal flow of vaccines to the different states, widening vaccine inequality,” he said.
He urged the government to also clear up doubt and confusion over the efficacy of Sinovac compared to mRna-based vaccines.
He said failure to do so will further erode public confidence in the “only programme” of the government that had shown some progress.
He said the government must also address fears that it could be drawn into geopolitical conflicts between superpowers that would result in its rejection of vaccines from China even they were approved for use by the World Health Organization.
“While DAP is fully supportive of (NIP), there must be proper and clear communication on policy direction, otherwise this will result in heightened hesitancy and doubt among the people, including those who have already taken the Sinovac vaccine.”
Lim said the ministers, particularly Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, who had an “international reputation” for making “preposterous statements”, must be careful not to announce new policies without offering clarification.
He said the application of clarity, certainty and consistency would guarantee the success of the NIP.
The government’s decision to stop using Sinovac has left recipients of the jab at sea.
Coordinating minister for the vaccination programme Khairy Jamaluddin said usage of Sinovac would end in August with the fulfilment of orders this month.
Khairy said the last batch of jabs was originally due to be delivered in November but the government had asked for the shipment to be brought forward to speed up the country’s vaccination drive.
The science, technology and innovation minister denied the decision had to do with concern over the vaccine’s efficacy.
Lim also questioned the government over an alleged official letter signed by Kelantan state health director Zaini Hussin stating the state will ditch Sinovac and go with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at all its vaccination centres.
He said such announcements and statements affected the confidence of the people, not just in the Sinovac vaccine but also the entire National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK).
“Does this mean that state governments are now given the autonomy and choice to select which vaccines they will administer?
“If such choices are given, will it be extended to other states or will one state be given preferential treatment over the other?” he asked in a statement.
If this is allowed, the Bagan MP said it will have a significant impact on PICK due to the unequal flow of vaccines to the different states, widening vaccine inequality in the country.
The announcement to stop using Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine comes amid increasing concern over its efficacy against new and more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
Neighbouring Thailand this week said it would use the AstraZeneca vaccine as a second dose for those who had received the Sinovac shot, while Indonesia is considering a booster shot for those who have received the two-dose Sinovac course.
Meanwhile, Lim has urged the government to clarify concerns raised over the efficacy of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine due to studies done in Hong Kong and Chile recently.
He stressed that an explanation based on science and data on the efficacy of the Sinovac inactivated vaccine compared to mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech was necessary to remove doubt and confusion among the people.
“Failure to do so will jeopardise public confidence in the only programme that the PN government is displaying some limited progress in,” Lim said.
Published in mid-July in The Lancet, a Hong Kong study found that people inoculated with the mRNA Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had 10 times the amount of antibodies compared to those who received the Sinovac vaccine.
The leaders of a Chilean human trial of the Sinovac vaccine also recommended a third dose of the jab, as they said their studies showed participants’ protecting antibody levels were lower after six months.
Lim warned that the government must address any growing doubts so that they will not be drawn into geopolitical conflicts between superpowers, that is being translated to “running down vaccines from China” despite the vaccines already getting approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Otherwise, this will result in heightened hesitancy and doubts among the people, including those who have already taken the Sinovac vaccine,” Lim added.
While concerns over Sinovac’s efficacy were re-ignited due to the two studies, one of the Hong Kong research’s authors, epidemiologist Ben Cowling, reportedly said people should still get vaccinated with Sinovac if it is their only option as it would still offer some protection.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Cowling was reported as saying.