BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health ministry has secured the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for 20 percent of the Brunei population as it keeps its options open on procuring different types of COVID-19 jabs.

During a press briefing on Thursday, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said the government acquired the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine for 15 percent of the population through COVAX – a WHO co-led platform to ensure equitable vaccine access.

The remaining five percent of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab were directly ordered.

The vaccine developed by Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant has an efficacy rate of 70 percent, according to clinical trial data.

Previously, the ministry said its agreement with COVAX would guarantee coverage for 50 percent of Brunei’s population as the first shipment of vaccines is expected to arrive in the second quarter of this year.

Gov’t keeps options open on vaccines

With plans to inoculate at least 70 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, the ministry is still studying the acquisition of more vaccines.

“We are still monitoring other vaccines. We have not rejected [the use] of any vaccines yet, including Pfizer,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said in response to a question on the type of vaccine the government will likely purchase.

“We are evaluating the side effect profile [of vaccines] to check whether anyone has developed anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions,” he added.

Those who have a history of severe allergic reactions were advised not to take the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

Both Pfizer and Moderna use a new type of vaccine known as mRNA to protect against infectious diseases.

Out of all the available coronavirus vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was reported to be the most effective in preventing COVID-19 but potentially the most challenging to distribute due to its cold storage requirements.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said his ministry has yet to decide on bringing in Pfizer doses, which need to be stored at -70C.

The government is also working to sort out logistics issues if it plans to order the Pfizer or Moderna jabs.

Moderna vaccine vials must be stored between -25C to -15C to remain effective.

Brunei is also not ruling out the use of Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm.

The minister said more scientific data is needed to assess their efficacy and safety, including factors such as age and gender of clinical trial participants as well as the proportion of participants who have chronic diseases.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, the Sinovac vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius. However, there are no definitive results on its efficacy.

Asked whether there is a particular group of people who cannot get vaccinated, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said children and pregnant women are not recommended to get the COVID-19 jab.

“Currently, there is no available data that shows it is generally safe for them to take the vaccines,” he added.