Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar Moves Ahead with COVID-19 Vaccine Plans

By Nyein Nyein 4 December 2020

As pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech seek approval for their COVID-19 vaccine, Myanmar is planning its purchase, distribution and vaccination once approval is received.

The Myanmar government is waiting for three nations with drug-registration agencies recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to approve the vaccine.

On Thursday, Dr. Myint Htwe, the minister of health and sports, said vaccine purchase, storage and deployment plans are underway. The decision for the purchase of the vaccine will be made by the Central Committee on COVID-19 Prevention, Control and Treatment led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar on Friday reported 96,520 COVID-19 patients with 2,059 deaths and 74,973 recoveries.

On Wednesday, a COVID-19 vaccine developed by US giant Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE was first approved in the United Kingdom. Other vaccines which are also still under ongoing clinical trials are made by Moderna and Oxford University’s AstraZeneca scheme and projects in Russia and China that have not been subjected to international testing.

Myanmar is yet to name a preferred vaccine.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sports, Myanmar is planning to prioritize vaccines for some 20 percent of its 54.4 million population with the help of the WHO’s COVAX program and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), an international alliance to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach the world’s poor.

Myanmar needs an estimated 22 million doses of vaccines for 10.8 million people, with two doses per person injected three weeks apart, according to Dr. Khin Khin Gyi, the director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit.

She told The Irrawaddy this week that hospital staff caring for COVID-19 patients are likely to be the first priority. Myanmar has more than 110,000 medical staff.

The decision will be based on how many doses of vaccine arrive in the first batch, she added.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in her address on Nov. 20: “We will try to get the vaccination for our people as soon as possible with the assistance of global health support groups.”

Myanmar is one of 92 COVAX members that will receive the vaccine for 20 percent of its population free of charge or at a reduced price. COVAX aims to allow fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Khin Khin Gyi added that the government aims to buy vaccines for another 40 percent of the population next year. She said 60 percent of the population is within the WHO guidelines. “We won’t be able to provide a vaccine for everyone but 60-percent coverage is more than enough,” she added.

On Thursday the World Bank said an additional fund of US$60 million (79 billion kyats) from the International Development Association fund (IDA19) had been allocated for the purchase, transport and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Myanmar.

Paul Jacob Robyn, a health specialist at the World Bank, said Myanmar can purchase vaccines via COVAX by adding funds and applying for a World Bank loan if vaccines for more than 20 percent of the population are purchased.

Dr. Myint Htwe said the ministry is cooperating with the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry and the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations on international loan plans.

In the meantime, the State Counselor keeps urging people to follow COVID-19 preventative measures, by wearing masks and face shields when outside their homes. She also advised the public against gathering over Christmas and New Year.

Zaw Zaw Htwe contributed to the story.

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