(Adds rollout challenges)
By Aradhana Aravindan
SINGAPORE, June 29 (Reuters) – Zuellig Pharma, Moderna’s supply partner for COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia, said on Tuesday that regional orders for the mRNA vaccine were almost fully booked for this year, highlighting procurement challenges for countries slow off the mark.
Singapore-headquartered Zuellig is involved in the distribution, regulatory approvals and purchase contracts for Moderna Inc’s vaccines for use in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
“A lot of the transactions that are being done today will be for 2022 … because the supply of Moderna vaccine is pretty much exhausted already for 2021,” Zuellig CEO John Graham told Reuters.
Graham said there will be some availability towards the end of this year.
“But one should assume that if you’re starting to negotiate today, you’re looking at 2022 before you get any supply,” he added.
Still, the situation could change depending the supply dynamics, he said. Graham declined to provide specifics on negotiations or deals, citing confidentiality.
Procurement efforts in the region have been hastened by a coronavirus flare-up in recent months that has exacerbated stubborn epidemics in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and tested authorities in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore, where earlier outbreaks had been quickly contained.
Many countries in the densely populated region have vaccinated fewer than 10% of their population with at least one dose, leaving them vulnerable to outbreaks and new and more transmissible variants.
The region’s vaccine rollout has been also impacted by supply disruptions to global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, which is seeking to address a 200 million dose gap due to export curbs from major supplier India.
Singapore, the Philippine, Thailand and Taiwan are among those that have sought or signed deals for Moderna or have already begun receiving vaccine batches.
“There are also countries that are already purchasing vaccine for booster (shots) in 2022-2023,” Zuellig’s Graham added. “There’s a race to get the supply.” South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to secure more mRNA vaccines as a booster shot next year. (Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Martin Petty)