BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health minister said there is a “good possibility” that Brunei will get the COVID-19 vaccine by the first quarter of 2021 after signing on to COVAX, a vaccine access plan co-led by the World Health Organization.

Speaking during a press briefing on Monday, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the agreement will guarantee vaccine coverage for 50 percent of Brunei’s population.

He said the government is in talks to acquire another 20 percent directly through agencies or pharmaceutical companies.

“There is a good possibility that we will get the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021, but it also depends on the logistics of global distribution — it may take a while.

“We have to think about how much [manufacturers] are able to produce and how much can they give to each country. We’re all in a queue,” he said.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham added that the Ministry of Health is also in direct talks with two vaccine manufacturers, although he declined to say which companies, to acquire sufficient supply of the vaccine.

Who will get the vaccine first?

Two pharmaceutical firms, Pfizer and Moderna, have said early phase 3 trial results show that their vaccine candidates have a 95 percent efficacy rate.

Both vaccines use mRNA, a groundbreaking new medical innovation that replicates the genetic code of the virus.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca also announced its preliminary trial results on Monday, saying its vaccine candidate showed a 70 percent efficacy rate.

The health minister said while it won’t be mandatory for everyone in Brunei to be vaccinated, it will be strongly encouraged.

The vaccine will first be offered to frontline workers, and then to high-risk groups such as the elderly and those suffering from chronic disease.

What is COVAX?

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham told reporters after the press conference that the health ministry will decide which vaccine to roll out in Brunei once options become available to COVAX.

The COVAX Facility is a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. So far 189 countries have signed on to the access plan.

COVAX — which is coordinated by the vaccine alliance GAVI, WHO, and the Coalition for Epidemic and Preparedness Innovations — aims to provide two billion vaccine doses by the end of next year, that can vaccinate one billion people (assuming a two-dose regimen).

Not all vaccine candidates will cost the same — Pfizer’s vaccine costs about US$20, while Moderna’s comes in between US$15 to US$25, based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the US government.

By far the cheapest, AstraZeneca, which has pledged it won’t make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, has reached agreements with governments and international health organisations that put its cost at about US$2.50 a dose.

It also doesn’t have to be stored at freezer temperatures, making it potentially easier to distribute, especially in developing countries.