Malaysia’s health ministry has announced that it will stop using the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac once its supplies end, while other Southeast Asian countries have said they are looking to mix and match the Chinese-made shots with those from western manufacturers amid a surge in cases driven by the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
Malaysian Health Minister Adham Baba announced on Thursday that about half its 16 million doses of Sinovac have already been distributed and the remainder will be used to cover second doses.
The country will then use the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA-type vaccine, having already secured about 45 million doses of the shot.
Malaysia’s decision on Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine comes amid questions elsewhere over the shot’s efficacy against new and more contagious variants of the coronavirus. The country reported a record 13,215 cases and 110 deaths on Thursday despite a prolonged lockdown, and has been ramping up its vaccination programme in an effort to bring the outbreak under control.
Sinovac as well as another China-made vaccine, Sinopharm, have received emergency use authorisation by the World Health Organization (WHO). Sinopharm is also classified under the inactivated virus vaccine category.
Malaysia has also approved the AstraZeneca jab, and on Friday announced the Drug Control Authority had approved the use of Johnson & Johnson as well as Sinopharm.
In neighbouring Thailand the government this week said it would give the AstraZeneca shot to those who had already received their first dose of the Sinovac vaccine, in an attempt to increase protection.
Thailand is the first country to publicly announce a plan to mix and match vaccines produced in China and ones developed by Western manufacturers.
Governments around the world are being forced to consider new approaches as the Delta variant – thought to be more transmissible and to become infectious to others more quickly – surges through their populations. Some are reviewing vaccine choices, as well as shortening the length of time between doses to ensure protection reaches the maximum level as quickly as possible.
A mixed schedule of vaccines has previously been tested in countries like Canada. A University of Oxford study published on June 28 also said that more antibodies were produced where a shot of Pfizer’s vaccine was given after an initial dose of AstraZeneca.
The World Health Organization (WHO), however, warned on July 12 against the practice, calling it a “dangerous trend” since there was little data available about the health effect, while Europe’s drug regulator made on July 14 said there were no definitive recommendations on switching doses.
In Indonesia, which is battling Southeast Asia’s most severe coronavirus outbreak, the government has said it is considering a booster shot for those who have already received two doses of Sinovac.
Indonesia, which was the location of late-stage trials for Sinovac, has relied heavily on the Chinese-made vaccine for its immunisation programme but cases have continued to surge in the country of 270 million people.
The Philippines, meanwhile, has now received some 13 million doses of Sinovac doses after one million doses were delivered on Wednesday, according to the Philippine News Agency. The country expects to get 1.5 million more Sinovac doses on Saturday; the government has a total order of 26 million for the year.
On Friday, the health department confirmed at least 11 locally transmitted Delta variants of COVID-19 with at least one death.
Health officials have stressed that all the COVID-19 vaccines are effective, saying “the best vaccine is the one that’s available”.