Coronavirus: Vaccines

Some govts look to home-grown vaccines to meet inoculation targets

They are counting on these jabs to boost future supplies and for vaccine diplomacy

Countries across the world are racing to meet vaccination targets, relying on doses procured in a variety of ways.

Most, like Singapore and Israel, have relied largely on vaccines developed by big pharmaceutical firms.

But some governments, like that in Taiwan as well as India, are relying on a patchwork of imported and home-grown vaccines to meet their needs.

Other countries like Thailand and Japan are relying on licensing arrangements to manufacture foreign vaccines, but are also counting on locally developed ones for booster doses in time to come.

Last month, Taiwan began administering its first locally developed Covid-19 vaccine, Medigen, with President Tsai Ing-wen receiving her first dose in a display of confidence in the jab.

The island has struggled to purchase enough vaccines for its 23 million population from international suppliers.

In an effort to reach its target of inoculating 60 per cent of the population with at least one dose by next month, the Taiwan government has ordered five million doses of the Medigen vaccine. More than 700,000 people have also signed up for it, according to Reuters.

"Given Taiwan's unique geopolitical vulnerability, it is critical for the island to develop its own Covid-19 vaccines," said Professor Chi Chunhuei, director of the Centre for Global Health at Oregon State University, in a commentary on online academic platform East Asia Forum last month.

"Taiwan is now in a position to provide vaccine aid to countries in need," said Prof Chi, a former health policy adviser for Taiwan.

Taiwan has millions of vaccines on order, mainly from AstraZeneca and Moderna, while the United States and Japan have together donated almost five million doses to the island.

On Thursday, it received about 900,000 Pfizer doses through a highly politicised deal facilitated by tech giants and a charity.

Similarly, India's vaccination drive has been aided by the country's first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, which is manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.

Since it received approval in January, over 12 million doses of Covaxin have been administered in the country of 1.3 billion people. India has rolled out over 650 million doses of Covaxin, Covishield - a locally made version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine - and the Russian-made Sputnik V in its quest to vaccinate 944 million adults by the end of the year.

Bharat Biotech, however, has struggled to boost output and has missed nearly all supply commitments to the government. The vaccine was also slated for export to many countries, but this has been banned by the government in view of domestic shortages.

India currently has at least 15 domestic Covid-19 vaccines in different stages of development.

Other nations are also banking on home-grown vaccines to shore up supplies for the future, as well as for vaccine diplomacy.

In Thailand, at least six vaccine candidates are being developed, which the authorities hope can increase supplies and reduce the kingdom's reliance on imports.

One of the potential candidates is the mRNA-based ChulaCov-19, developed by the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University. The research team recently announced success in its first phase of human trials and is on track to register it for emergency use in April next year.

The researchers hope the Thai-made vaccine will be made available as booster shots.

Thailand has faced issues with stocks, despite being the production hub for AstraZeneca in the region. By the end of this year, it hopes to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of its population of more than 70 million. It currently relies mostly on Sinovac and AstraZeneca to meet that goal.

The Thai authorities are reportedly also in talks with European countries to secure millions of doses and the country has also received vaccine donations from Japan, China and the US.

Japan, too, has locally made AstraZeneca vaccines but it only recently started administering them domestically to meet the target of inoculating 80 per cent of those eligible by early next month.

Japan, with 126 million people, held back on the use of AstraZeneca over concerns about rare blood clots linked to the vaccine. AstraZeneca jabs produced locally were initially exclusively used for vaccine diplomacy, with donations to vaccine-sharing facility Covax and Asian neighbours.

Tokyo also has a number of indigenous vaccines in the works, most of which are likely to be used to further its vaccine diplomacy drive or as booster shots.

One in two Japanese has received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

South Korea will be rolling out home-grown vaccines for public use next year. Already, one front-runner candidate, the protein antigen vaccine GBP510 by SK Bioscience, has started phase three clinical trials and is set to be launched by the middle of next year.

Currently, South Korea has secured enough vaccines for 99 million doses - almost double its 51.3 million population - through direct deals with drugmakers and Covax. It has also received donations from the US, a major ally.

But disruptions to its supply of the Moderna jab has forced the government to turn to vaccine swop deals to meet its goal of fully vaccinating 70 per cent of South Koreans by next month.

Vietnam, with 96 million people, has also turned to a number of technology transfer deals to manufacture vaccines from Russia, the US and Japan to ensure that it can fully inoculate at least 70 per cent of the adult population by early next year.

This is in addition to four home-grown Covid-19 vaccine candidates, of which two have already entered human trials.

• Additional reporting by Walter Sim, Chang May Choon and Tan Hui Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2021, with the headline 'Some govts look to home-grown vaccines to meet inoculation targets'. Subscribe