Myanmar puts out donation jar to buy more COVID vaccines

The first COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in Myanmar from India next month and go directly to its health care workers – but first Naypyidaw needs your money.

Delivering comments to welcome the new year, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said a contract had been signed with Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, to secure additional supplies after announcing last month there would only be enough this year to inoculate 20% of the population.

“There is a lot of competition because all the countries in the world are working to get the vaccine. However, throughout 2021, immunization campaigns will continue across the country. It can be implemented step by step,” she said, urging people not to let down their guard as the outbreak continues. “We would also like to urge citizens to support the health workers by following the regulations before the vaccination.”

The government said it can only spend MMK1 billion (US$753,000) for the COVID-19 vaccines and on Tuesday appealed to the public for donations.

The appeal, coming form the finance ministry, has so far been answered by several business tycoons. Chit Khaing, chairman of Eden Group of Companies, Myanma Pioneer Bank and Denko, announced that he had donated US$1.5 million as his birthday celebration on Tuesday. Zaw Zaw, chairman of AYA Financial group, donated MMK2 billion ( to support the vaccine purchase. Others joined the donation as well.

In December, health officials said there would only be enough vaccine for 20% of the population in 2021 under the COVAX program, and the doses would not all arrive at the same time. COVAX is an international program to fund the development and equitable distribution of a vaccine.

The Ministry of Health and Sports has also stated that the vaccine will be available at private hospitals and clinics. The Switzerland-based vaccine alliance Gavi is reportedly working out how to make the vaccine available in Myanmar at a low price or for free.

Tun Tun Naing, ministry perm-sec, said a loan of US$60 million is pending from the World Bank. 

Those who want to donate funds to the government effort can find more information online.

The additional vaccines are coming from what’s hailed as the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, by volume. The 55-year-old Serum Institute has made a billionaire many times over of founder Cyrus Poonawalla. It took a gamble early on by putting promising vaccine candidates into mass production long before they won approval. It is producing two vaccines: one devised by AstraZeneca-Oxford, which has been assessed to be about 70% effective. The other is Novavax’s NVX-CoV2373, which is still under clinical trial. 

The company also plans to produce a nasally administered vaccine by Codagenix called CDX-005, but it is still being studied.

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