By Joseph Sipalan
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia on Monday announced it had established a $2.4 million compensation fund to provide cash assistance for any COVID-19 vaccine recipients who suffer severe reactions due to inoculations.
The Southeast Asian country has inoculated nearly 430,000 frontline workers, with the majority having received the first of two jabs of the vaccine jointly developed by U.S. company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech.
Under the new fund, individuals requiring extended hospitalisation due to a vaccine reaction will be eligible for 50,000 ringgit ($12,171), or if this results in permanent disability or death 500,000 ringgit, Health Minister Adham Baba said.
Adham said health authorities had recorded 20 instances of adverse reactions to vaccination as of March 18, with symptoms ranging from itching to shortness of breath and palpitations.
"There have not been any deaths linked to the vaccine," Adham told a news conference, without specifying the type of vaccine he was referring to.
Malaysia's vaccination drive began on Feb. 23 using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with authorities only starting to administer the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech on March 18.
Malaysia will also scrap a plan to reserve a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine for those who had already received their first dose, in a bid to speed up its vaccination drive.
Malaysia has reported just over 330,000 coronavirus cases and 1,233 deaths after keeping infection rates relatively low for much of last year until a spike of infections from October that peaked in early February.
Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the government is confident that Pfizer will be able to provide the 32 million doses secured by Malaysia.
Last week, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government will almost double its COVID-19 immunisation budget to 5 billion ringgit to speed up its target of vaccinating 80% of its 32 million population by December, instead of February 2022.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Ed Davies)