Covid 19 Vaccine Race Against Time Roll Out Plan in South East Asia

Over 400 million people expected to be immunised within the next 12 months
Monday 22 February 2021

In a race to immunize people against the coronavirus,  Unreserved takes a closer look at Covid-19 vaccination updates across Southeast Asia. Singapore kick started the race last year, achieving status as the first country in Southeast Asia to start an official Covid-19 vaccination program. Neighbouring Malaysia recently received their first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines with 312,390 doses expected to be administered in Q1 2021 through the government’s vaccination program. Indonesia faces deep challenges, being the world’s fourth most populous nation in seeking to vaccinate 181.5 million people, with fast production seen as the main bottleneck. The Philippines saw infections soaring with the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia. The nation is eyeing US$1.5 billion in vaccine purchases that it plans to fund with financing from multilateral agencies, state-owned banks and companies. Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos with relatively lower Covid cases are currently negotiating vaccines with various suppliers around the world.


Covid-19 Vaccination
Covid-19 Vaccines start rolling out in Southeast Asia. Photo Daniel Schludi


The country is expected to spend US$504 million to purchase enough shots to cover 26.5 million people, which is about 80% of its population. Malaysia is providing vaccines free of charge to all its nationals and foreign nationals who are long-term residents, according to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. He recently signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.

The government’s vaccination program is giving priority to frontliners, and the doses will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each commencing in Q1 2021.The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens.

Malaysia is set to secure 6.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax facility, and another 6.4 million directly. Enough to inoculate 20% of the country’s population, according to Science and Technology Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. The government is also in final negotiations with China’s Sinovac for 14 million doses, CanSino Biologics for 3.5 million doses, and for 6.4 million shots of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Khairy said. The deals will involve local companies that can provide fill-finish manufacturing capacity for the vaccines.

Malaysia will conduct its first Covid-19 vaccine trial in December as part of a government-to-government agreement with China. It will be a phase-III trial on a vaccine candidate developed by the Institute of Medical Biology Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. Malaysia signed an agreement with China in October to be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccines that China develops.


Singapore skyline
Singapore is the first country in Southeast Asia to start an official Covid-19 vaccination program. Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash



Singapore received its first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on Dec. 21st 2020 and started vaccinations on 30th December 2020. Frontliners, the elderly and vulnerable will be prioritized in the nation’s vaccination program. Vaccines will be free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.

The Country has set aside roughly S$ 1 billion for vaccines, taking supply from Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings Inc., Moderna Inc, Pfizer and Sinovac. It estimates it should have enough for its 5.5 million-strong population by Q3 of 2021.

Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. Results so far show that the vaccine could be effective as a single dose, the Straits Times reported, citing a professor who co-developed the vaccine with Arcturus. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021.


Indonesia Covid-19
Image by iqbal nuril anwar from Pixabay


Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, seeking to vaccinate 181.5 million people and prioritizing those aged 18 to 59 years old.The country will offer free vaccines to people, and President Joko Widodo has ordered the finance minister to reallocate spending on other matters toward the free shots. Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to frontline workers.

The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population. The Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose. Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues. Sinovac will also ship raw material for 45 million doses to be manufactured by Indonesia’s PT Bio Farma by Q1. The state firm aims to produce 24 million doses a month.

The nation is banking on both Western and Chinese vaccines, ordering 125.5 million doses from Sinovac, 50 million from AstraZeneca Plc and another 50 million from Novavax Inc, while developing 57.6 million of its own Merah Putih. It’s seeking another 54 million from the global GAVI vaccine facility while talks are also on with Pfizer Inc for 50 million doses and loaned cold storage facilities for the vaccine. Indonesia plans to be able to vaccinate 16 million people a month, with production seen as the main bottleneck instead of the logistics of getting the shots across thousands of islands.

Indonesia will get the AstraZeneca vaccines delivered in stages starting from as early as April through the first quarter of 2022. The deal also includes the option for the country to purchase an additional 50 million doses.

Covid-19 Vaccine
Thailand plans to inoculate 50% of its population by 2021.


The country is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. Thailand plans to inoculate 50% of its population by 2021, the first orders would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. It plans to get 26 million doses from the World Health Organization-backed Covax program, 26 million from AstraZeneca, and 13 million more from other sources, providing immunity to more than 30 million people. Not wanting to rely solely on inoculations from abroad, Thailand is also developing its own anti-coronavirus shot.

Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time. Under agreement with AstraZeneca, Siam Bioscience will produce vaccines at its facilities, and Thailand will receive technology transfer. Thailand will supply coronavirus vaccines at “reasonable prices” to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam when it begins production, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said.

Covid-19 Vaccine
Philippines has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.


The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.  It expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. Priority for vaccinations will be given to medical frontliners and workers in industries deemed critical, including low-income groups and those identified as at risk.

The country will receive as early as May 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines purchased by local companies which pooled about 800 million pesos to buy 3 million shots.

The nation is eyeing 73.2 billion pesos (US$1.5 billion) in vaccine purchases that it plans to fund with financing from multilateral agencies, state-owned banks and companies and bilateral sources, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said. The business community has reacted, with more than 30 local companies signing an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees.

The nation expects to sign a deal for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is also working on a pact with Moderna for an initial 20 million doses. It’s aiming to secure at least 80 million vaccines from pharmaceuticals companies including AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson.

Vietnam is working on developing  its own vaccines.
Vietnam is working on developing  its own vaccines.



The country is working on developing  its own vaccines, Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.

Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021.



Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.



Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several Southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.



Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies.