Myanmar plans to start providing COVID-19 vaccines to about 20 percent of its 54.4 million population in April under the global Covax affordable medicines program, according to health minister Dr. Myint Htwe.
Myanmar on Dec. 7 submitted its request to the Covax program at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, an international alliance to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach the world’s poor.
It outlined its step-by-step plans for vaccine storage and distribution, priority groups, co-financing and the prioritized list of vaccines. It is not yet known which vaccine the country will receive.
According to Dr. Myint Htwe, the country is looking at a vaccination period from April 2021 to June 2022.
Myanmar on Monday reported 109,521 COVID-19 cases, with 2,292 deaths and 88,131 recoveries, since its first cases were reported in late March.
Dr. Khin Khin Gyi, the director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit, told The Irrawaddy: “We don’t know yet what type of vaccine we will get and whether the vaccine can be obtained under a co-financing program.” Covax aims to ensure citizens in its 92 member states have equal access to vaccines.
She said the minister expected to receive 3 percent of its initial delivery in April and another 17 percent in mid-2021.
Dr. Khin Khin Gyi said Myanmar is discussing the purchase of vaccines from developers once they are approved. Myanmar has three conditions: the WHO approves a vaccine; a manufacturer receives official approval in three countries; or a vaccine receives emergency approval. The expenses will be covered by Myanmar’s development funds and World Bank funding.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has obtained approval in the UK, US and Canada and these countries started vaccinations this month. Singapore on Monday became the first Asean country to approve the vaccine and is expecting its first shipments at the end of this month. The United Arab Emirates approved Chinese vaccine Sinopham for emergency use for its frontline health workers in September. Other vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials, including products by Moderna and Oxford University’s AstraZeneca scheme, which are undergoing phase-three clinical trials.
Dr. Khin Khin Gyi said the health ministry is working with Myanmar’s 14-member National Immunization Technical Advisory Group to “purchase a vaccine which is appropriate and safely stored”.
She said private hospitals will be allowed to provide vaccines to increase coverage in 2021.
An outline for purchasing the vaccine is being submitted to Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports and the Central Committee on COVID-19 Prevention, Control and Treatment led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with a decision expected soon.
“We have submitted the situation report and the State Counselor will announce the results,” said Dr. Khin Khin Gyi.
Under the government’s vaccination plan, the priority groups will be health care staff, the over-65s and those with underlying health conditions, she added.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi promised the public on Dec. 11 that “no one will be left behind” in the vaccination program. But she stressed the government will be able to provide vaccines earlier in the areas “where COVID-containment efforts have been successful”.
She said: “We will act fairly. The decisions about who receives the vaccine first will be based on the needs of the country and it depends on our ability to cope with these tasks.”
Under-18s, who represent about 33 percent of the population, will not be injected as the age group has not been tested, said Dr. Khin Khin Gyi.
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