Hong Kong signs Covid-19 vaccine deal for 15 million doses

The company with the rights to manufacture the vaccine in Hong Kong says it is getting ready to submit paperwork as soon as next week. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong has signed a deal to buy 15 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, including from Pfizer, which was on track to receive the first United States approval after winning the backing of a panel of government advisers.

The city has struck deals for 15 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from two front-runner companies and will receive the first shots beginning next month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday (Dec 11).

The Asian financial city will buy 7.5 million doses of the mRNA shot developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, and 7.5 million doses of a vaccine from Chinese developer Sinovac Biotech, she said.

It is also in talks with AstraZeneca for a further 7.5 million doses, though that agreement has not been signed.

Meanwhile, the Chinese company with the rights to market the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in Hong Kong is preparing to seek approval of the shot soon after the US clears it, according to people familiar with the matter.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group is getting ready to submit paperwork to the drug regulator in Hong Kong for review as soon as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions remain private.

Authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in the Asian financial hub would be among a wave of rubber-stamp approvals expected around the world, as many endorsements are contingent on the US Food and Drug Administration approving the vaccine, which could come as soon as this weekend.

Countries or cities lacking the capacity to independently validate experimental therapies often rely on rigorous reviews by world-leading drug authorities like the FDA.

While Hong Kong could sign off on the vaccine's emergency use authorisation soon after the required paperwork is submitted by Fosun, there is no guarantee.

The review process could be complicated by the fact Hong Kong does not have a precedent for granting emergency use for vaccines, one of the people said.

Hong Kong has a history of authorising medications once they have been reviewed by leading regulators. It granted conditional approval of Gilead Sciences' antiviral drug remdesivir to treat Covid-19 in mid-July, following a similar decision from the European Union.

Spokesmen for Fosun and Hong Kong's Food and Health Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other countries including Canada and Britain have already given a green light to the vaccine, which data shows has a 95 per cent protection rate against Covid-19. The EU is also reviewing the Pfizer-BioNTech shot and is expected to authorise it soon.

Hong Kong is anxiously anticipating a green-lit vaccine.

While its coronavirus outbreak is not as alarming as those in many global hot spots, the city of 7.5 million people has been plagued by repeated resurgences since summer. Hong Kong has reported less than 100 new cases on each of the past three days.

The government has ramped up social-distancing measures that include closing restaurants and asking people to work from home to prevent Covid-19's spread. The resurgence delayed a key travel bubble with Singapore and dented the competitiveness of Hong Kong's financial industry.

Fosun secured rights from Germany-based BioNTech in March to develop and market the mRNA shot across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The Chinese company said in August it intends to supply 10 million doses for Hong Kong and Macau, distributing them through Hong Kong's Jacobson Pharma Corp.

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While Pfizer sought emergency use authorisation from Britain and the US, the right to clear the vaccine with regulators in Hong Kong falls with Fosun, under a deal with BioNTech that saw the Chinese drugmaker investing US$50 million (S$67 million) in the German firm for a 0.7 per cent stake.

Fosun has yet to apply for authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine's use in mainland China.

The company is currently running a trial testing the shot's safety and ability to generate immune response. It will submit data from that, as well as from a Phase 3 trial conducted overseas, to China's National Medical Products Administration for approve for general use.

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