COVID-19 vaccines provide hope to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease which has infected over 155,745,966 people and claimed 3,240,725 lives as of May 5, 2021.
With many developed nations already securing orders from major vaccine producers, what is the vaccine situation on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, most of which are developing nations?
To ensure global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) co-led an initiative alongside with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and GAVI to provide vaccines to developing nations.
Brunei has a population of 441,532, the smallest among ASEAN countries. As of May 5, it has reported a total of 228 infections with 3 deaths.
It released its updated COVID-19 vaccination strategy last March, stating that all Brunei citizens and residents, including foreign nationals with a valid identification card are set to receive a vaccine, free of charge.
It will also be using COVID-19 vaccines from major vaccine producers, namely: AstraZeneca, China’s Sinopharm, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer BioNtech.
Its vaccination programme is divided into three phases. For phase one, frontliners and senior citizens aged 60 and above, and students studying overseas are the first ones to be vaccinated. Phase two is for workers and staff at childcare centers, adults with pre-existing health conditions, and teachers. Lastly, in phase three, individuals aged 18 and above will be vaccinated.
The COVAX facility shipped 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Brunei last March 31. These doses are the total of 100,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that will be provided by the COVAX facility. Brunei received the vaccines last April 2 and immediately began the phase one for their vaccination programme the next day. It deployed Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines for the first day of vaccination. A total of 754 people were vaccinated on April 3. A month later, the number of people who received their first dose was 15,043, while 862 people received their second dose.
Brunei’s health minister, Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar, announced that it will receive 200,000 doses of Moderna vaccine and 300,000 doses of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. These doses, in addition to the 100,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, are enough to cover 70% of the population by the end of year.
At present, Brunei is currently in phase one of their vaccination programme.
Cambodia has a population of around 16 million. As of May 5, it has reported a total of 16, 971 cases and 110 deaths.
Cambodia started its vaccination campaign last February. China will be donating a total of 1.7 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine, and the first 600,000 doses arrived in the same month.
Last March, 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX facility arrived in Cambodia. The 324,000 doses are a total of 1.1 million doses that will be given in batches by the COVAX facility by the end of May. It is expected to receive an estimated seven million doses from the COVAX initiative to cover 20% of its population. The government also purchased 1.5 million doses of Sinovac vaccines from China.
This month, it sought help from the military to speed up its vaccination drive. 471,573 people would be vaccinated with Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines during a one-month vaccination campaign by the military.
Cambodia has prioritized frontline healthcare workers, those in greater risk for COVID-19 exposure, and those with comorbidities in the early stages of its vaccination rollout.
It is targeting to vaccinate 80% or 10 million of its population.
To this day, Cambodia has vaccinated 1.5 million of its people with either Sinopharm, Sinovac, and AstraZeneca vaccine. 1,043,691 people have been fully vaccinated, meaning they already received their first and second dose.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world and the most populous among ASEAN nations, with a population of 270 million. As of May 5, it has recorded 1,697,305 cases with 46,496 deaths, the highest among ASEAN countries.
It started its vaccination efforts last January.
The country took a different approach than most nations, prioritizing working citizens aged 18 to 59 after frontline workers for the first phase of their vaccination programme.
This strategy, according to the government, is the best approach to achieve herd immunity as those likely to spread the virus are inoculated first. However, it was questioned by experts, saying that there is no guarantee that vaccines will prevent the transmission of the disease, and it only prevents people from succumbing to COVID-19 symptoms.
Indonesia received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX facility last March and received another 3.8 million doses last April. It is scheduled to receive a total of 11.7 million doses until May 2021 from the COVAX facility. It will be receiving a total of 54 million doses of AstraZeneca in batches.
According to its health minister, Indonesia will receive 50 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, with 20 million doses to be shipped this year, and 30 million doses will be shipped in 2022.
Aside from AstraZeneca, Indonesia is relying on Sinovac for its vaccination programme. 12, 699, 568 of the population received their first dose, and 8,002,236 are fully vaccinated.
Indonesia aims to vaccinate 181 million of its people by March 2022.
Laos has a population of around 7 million. It has 1,177 cases with no reported deaths as of May 6.
Laos started its first round of vaccination on volunteer medical workers at the end of 2020. Last April, it commenced its second round of vaccination, aiming to inoculate over 150,000 healthcare workers.
Priority groups for the vaccination include: healthcare workers, people with pre-existing health conditions, senior citizens aged 60 and above, essential workers, and essential travelers
It is expected to receive aid from the COVAX initiative, with 480,000 doses scheduled to arrive in batches enough to cover 20% of its population.
In the second week of April, 140,000 people received their first dose of the vaccine and to this day, 58,315 are already fully vaccinated.
It is targeting to vaccinate 22% of its population by the end of 2021.
Malaysia has a population of 31.95 million. It has recorded 427,927 cases and 1,610 as of May 5.
It is using a phased approach for its vaccination campaign. The first phase took place in February to April, with front liners being its priority group. The second phase started last April. Priority groups for this phase include senior citizens aged 60 and above and individuals with underlying conditions. For the third phase which is scheduled this month, the general public will be vaccinated.
According to reports, it has successfully secured orders of 66.7 million doses from five different vaccine producers, including: AstraZeneca, CanSino, Pfizer BioNTech, SinoVac, Gamaleya (Sputnik V).
Malaysia is also scheduled to receive 6.4 million doses enough to inoculate 3.2 million individuals this month from the COVAX facility.
To this day, it has administered 1,500,202 doses and 585,539 individuals are fully vaccinated. It is currently at phase two of its vaccination efforts.
Malaysia is aiming to inoculate 80% or 26.7 million of its population by February 2022.
Myanmar has a population of around 54 million. It has reported 142,874 cases with 3,210 deaths.
It secured an order for 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India last January. It started its vaccination efforts the same month after receiving 1.5 million doses, prioritizing healthcare staff and volunteer medical workers. It was set to receive 2 million doses from its order in February.
There was also an initial word of agreement that it will be receiving vaccines enough to inoculate 20% of its population from the COVAX facility and was foreseeing inoculation of 40% of the total population by the end of 2021.
However, the current situation in Myanmar derailed its vaccination programme as citizens boycott the military junta. The country is under turmoil as the military junta seized control of the government, overthrowing government elected leaders amid the COVID-19 pandemic last February 2021. As of April 24, the military junta has reportedly killed 753 individuals in a military crackdown against anti-junta protesters.
China donated 500,000 doses of vaccines to military junta this month, a move that was heavily criticized by Myanmar citizens as it shows support to the military who has caused havoc in the country.
To this day, there are no updates regarding the shipment of vaccines from the COVAX facility.
At present, Myanmar has administered a total of 1,040,000 doses but only 40,000 individuals are fully vaccinated.
Efforts to curb infection rates in Myanmar remains uncertain as the current political climate
The Philippines has a population of 108 million. It recorded 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths as of May 6.
For its vaccination programme, the Philippines has divided the population into three different priority groups, namely: A, B, AND C. Group A are comprised of healthcare workers, senior citizens aged 60 and above, indigent citizens, and uniformed personnel. For group B includes other frontline workers and special populations not mentioned in group A. Under group C, the general public will be inoculated.
According to its health undersecretary, the prioritization has two strategies, sectoral and geographic. For sectoral, those at most risk for exposure will be vaccinated first. For geographic, the focus of vaccination efforts is on areas hardest hit by the virus.
The Philippines secured orders from five major vaccine producers, namely: AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Gamaleya, and Sinovac.
It is included in the COVAX initiative, and is scheduled to receive vaccines to inoculate 20% of its population. So far, it has received a total of 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX facility.
To help in its vaccination efforts, China also donated 600,000 doses of Sinovac which arrived in February.
Initial shipment of 18,000 doses of Gamaleya (Sputnik V) vaccines arrived last April. Reports say that vaccine orders from Pfizer and Moderna will arrive this May or mid-June.
It is targeting to secure access to 148 million doses of vaccines to inoculate 50 to 70 million of the population and aiming to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2021. However, an epidemiologist part of its COVID-19 task force says that it needs to vaccinate at least 350,000 individuals daily to achieve this goal.
At present, it has administered 2,129,185 doses of either Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccine and 342,705 are fully vaccinated.
Singapore has a population of around 5 million. It has reported 61,311cases with 31 deaths as of May 5.
It was the earliest among ASEAN nations to begin its vaccination drive, starting by the end of 2020. It is also the first country to receive shipments of Pfizer BioNTech among Asian countries, arriving in December 2020. It is not included in the COVAX initiative and will instead contribute US$5 million to the said initiative.
It secured orders from Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna, and Sinovac but the total number of doses ordered are yet to be disclosed by the Singaporean government.
During the early stages of its vaccination campaign, it prioritized healthcare workers and essential workers, especially those in the maritime and aviation sector.
The government foresees to vaccinate the entire population by the end of 2021. According to its MOH (Ministry of Health) website, as of April 18, it has administered a total of 2,213,888 doses of either Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccine, and 849,764 individuals are fully vaccinated.
Thailand has a population of about 69 million. It has recorded 78,855 cases with 370 deaths as of May 5. The country is off to a slow start in vaccination efforts. As of May 8, only 1.27 million had their first shot, around 1.8% of the total population.
As the third wave surged and overwhelmed the public health system, the authorities were pressured to speed up their vaccination rollout and purchase more vaccines. It reworked its vaccination strategy due to infection surge and increase of fatalities. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the target to administer 100 million doses by year-end, looking to buy additional 20-35 million doses on top of the current 65 million vaccines it secured. The bulk of vaccines are 61 million doses of AstraZeneca from a domestic plant, of which the first batch of 6 million expected to be available in June. So far, it relied on vaccines from Sinovac Biotech for medical workers and other at-risk populations. Thailand did not participate in the COVAX facility.
Despite the infection resurgence, the government still pressed ahead with a plan to reopen Phuket to vaccinated tourists and lifting the quarantine requirement. The government is optimistic to vaccinate 70% of Phuket residents by July to create a herd immunity. The need to reopen was largely from the unemployment and fragile economy which is highly dependent on the tourism sector.
Vietnam has a population of about 96 million. It is most successful among ASEAN nations in containing the spread of the virus, only recording a total of 3,317 cases with 35 deaths as of May 5.
It started its vaccination drive in March, with healthcare workers being its priority. It is aiming to secure 150 million doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. Vietnam has administered a total of 675,956.
Major challenges in rollout
Unequal distribution of vaccines hinder the goal of achieving herd immunity. While some nations can afford to vaccinate its general population, poor countries are scrambling to acquire enough resources to vaccinate its frontliners, individuals with underlying health conditions, and the elderly.
There are also storage problems.
One of the biggest challenges of vaccination rollout in ASEAN nations is vaccine hesitancy. Joshua Tingson, a youth living in the Philippines, said that he will not consent to be vaccinated.
“I don’t want to be vaccinated. Based on what I saw from my neighbor and my healthcare worker friend who were vaccinated, they experienced side-effects such as fever and body weakness,” he said.
Juan, (not his real name) a healthcare worker from the Philippines shared that while nationwide vaccination efforts in the country have started since March 2021, one of the greater challenges that remain is the public perception towards vaccines, more particularly, Sinovac.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be vaccinated, I just don’t want to be vaccinated with Sinovac. I feel like it’s not safe based on the answers of the people I asked. If Pfizer or Moderna becomes available in the Philippines and it is my turn to be vaccinated, then I am more than willing to do so. Until then, I won’t give my consent,” Joshua affirmed.
This public distrust towards vaccination impedes inoculation efforts. The healthcare worker noted the great importance of vaccination rollouts to curb infection rates.
“The immediate vaccination rollout is important in making sure that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed by the amount of active COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing problem here in the Philippines, with the majority of hospitals in the capital region [population of 13 million, 20,000+ persons per square Kilometer] is still at full capacity for months now. One of the direct effects of this is the significant increase of COVID-19 deaths outside of hospitals, as more people resort to being quarantined at home with no direct access to adequate medical care,” Juan explained.
To change public attitude towards vaccination, he stressed the importance of gaining their trust through factual and transparent handling of the crisis.
“The one possible solution I can come up with is a more transparent and science-based handling of the pandemic; it is not absurd to foresee that if the people trust their government and the vaccine they provide, more [people] wouldn’t hesitate to get vaccinated and potentially even encourage others to do the same,” the healthcare worker noted.