LETTER: Considering that Muslims make up more than 60 per cent of the Malaysian population, coupled with the increase in halal awareness in recent years, it is only logical for us to consider getting the Covid-19 vaccine to be certified halal right from the start.
The Department of Standards Malaysia, under the International Trade and Industry Ministry, had developed the world's first International Organisation for Standardisation-level standard as the guideline for the manufacturing of halal pharmaceuticals — the MS2424 — way back in 2012. This standard was revised last year to include guidance on the manufacture of halal vaccines.
The working group that developed this standard comprised experts with the skills, knowledge, proficiency, capability and experience on the halal certification process in Malaysia. Some of the working group's members have also audited conventional vaccine plants around the world.
If Malaysia can pre-book the vaccines for use by Malaysians, would it be possible for a combination of Pharma-GMP and halal audit to be performed at the same time when the vaccine is being registered with the Drug Control Authority of the Health Ministry?
Another option is to initiate a collaboration with the countries or companies that the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, which had been tasked by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin with negotiating directly with vaccine manufacturers. This will ensure that compliance can be ensured right from the development stage for the Covid-19 vaccine supply.
If the product is already in the clinical trial stage, then any rectification from the results of the trial can also incorporate halal compliance aspects if they are minor ones. This could aid in expediting the availability of halal Covid-19 vaccines.
Thus, I wish to suggest that a public-private partnership be established, comprising:
Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, Health Ministry (medical and pharmacy sections), Islamic Development Department Malaysia (Jakim) (halal and fatwa sections) and the Foreign Ministry, representing the public (i.e. extending the present collaboration to include Jakim);
Duopharma Biotech Bhd and Pharmaniaga Bhd representing the private sector; and,
Other members of the MS2424 Working Group representing the remaining stakeholders.
The international aspects I wish to focus on here relate to the Muslim community worldwide and should come from the involvement of the minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of religious affairs and the prime minister's special envoy to the Middle East.
They should garner support from Muslims from this region via MABIMS (ministers of religious affairs of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore), the Middle East and other Islamic countries via the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to magnify and significantly multiply the demand for halal Covid-19 vaccines.
This will have a domino effect of increasing the purchasing power of allied governments, which can make the vaccine more affordable for the rakyat.
Since Malaysia has the fill and finish facilities, we can lead the bulk purchasing orders, which would result in competitive pricing. This initiative can strengthen our leadership in global halal pharmaceutical initiatives by having the Halal Malaysia certification for the vialled vaccines that are re-exported to allied countries.
The benefits of these initiatives and collaborations can be enjoyed by all stakeholders. The government will not have to face the headache of halal being an issue from anti-vaccination groups and, more importantly, Muslims will have peace of mind. And the resulting competitive pricing from bulk purchasing will not further burden the country's coffers.
These benefits will create and drive demand, and the economic returns can be enjoyed by all stakeholders and the rakyat, too. Let's do it right the first time for the benefit of the ummah.
ROZIATUL AKMAM OSMAN
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times