Myanmar Junta Targets Local COVID-19 Vaccine Production This Year

By The Irrawaddy 18 August 2021

Myanmar’s military regime hopes to produce COVID-19 vaccines this year with help from its allies China and Russia.

“We are trying to make it happen within this year,” regime spokesperson Major-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy.

It seems the Southeast Asian country will make vaccines under license from China and Russia.

“From Russia, we will take Sputnik V. From China, we haven’t decided yet which one to take,” said the spokesperson. China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm are both now widely used in Myanmar’s national COVID-19 vaccination program.

He said the vaccines will be made at the government’s pharmaceutical factories in collaboration with local experts and their Chinese and Russian counterparts.

“They will visit us [to see if we have the required technical capabilities]. They will supply raw materials [for vaccine production],” he added.

Myanmar is still reeling from a third wave of COVID-19, with 6,000 deaths reported nationwide in July. Over 3,000 people a day have tested positive for coronavirus since early this month.

Military regime leader Min Aung Hlaing has vowed to inoculate half of Myanmar’s more than 54 million people by the end of the year.

However, he recently said his regime would be “broke” if it had to buy vaccines for more than 50 million people. So far, the junta has bought 4 million vaccine doses from China.

In contrast, the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led government that he ousted in the Feb. 1 military coup pledged to the people that “the state would make sure to secure enough vaccine for everyone.”

“No one will be left behind,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in December last year.

True to her word, her then-ruling National League for Democracy government ordered 30 million Covishield vaccine doses from India and another 27 million from COVAX, a United Nations-backed initiative to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable. However, only 2 million doses from India have been shipped so far, as India is battling its own COVID surge at home and exporting vaccine is no longer a priority. Following Min Aung Hlaing’s coup in February, the vaccine from COVAX never arrived.

The regime’s dream of making vaccines at home may have been sparked partly by Min Aung Hlaing’s lack of benevolence toward the people—given the potential cost of purchasing doses—as well as vaccine-making countries’ difficulties in meeting demand.

The coup leader said that during his trip to Russia in June he had reached some basic agreements with authorities there to make vaccine in Myanmar. Since his trip, he has frequently mentioned vaccine production at home.

While trying to embrace modernity, the Myanmar coup leader has gone traditional at the same time, encouraging traditional medicine practitioners in the country to produce herbal medicines that could fight against the coronavirus. During a COVID-19 meeting early this month, he proudly said the country’s Ministry of Health and the military’s medical research corps were embarking on research for traditional COVID medicine.

For all his high ambitions, no one knows what the outcomes will be for either local production of COVID-19 vaccines or traditional medicines to treat the coronavirus. One thing is certain: six months after the coup,  Min Aung Hlaing has proved himself to be a man of failed missions—from running the country to reviving the economy to responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. As for vaccine production at home and formulating herbal remedies for COVID-19? Let’s wait and see, as only time will tell.

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