Coronavirus Singapore

Gan: Sinovac vaccine will undergo regulatory scrutiny before roll-out

The Sinovac vaccine was just 50.4 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections.
The Sinovac vaccine was just 50.4 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections.PHOTO: REUTERS

A coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech will have to go through regulatory scrutiny and authorisation by Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before it can be rolled out to the public, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

This comes on the back of data released from a Brazilian trial on Tuesday, which showed that the Sinovac vaccine was just 50.4 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic infections. This is barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the rate announced last week.

The Sinovac vaccine has yet to be approved, Mr Gan told reporters after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only authorised one in Singapore.

He said: "We will go through the data carefully when it comes, rather than depending on reported numbers. It's better to rely on official data that we receive from Sinovac itself."

HSA will assess the data when it has been obtained and the nation's Covid-19 expert committee will also evaluate whether it is suitable for vaccination in Singapore, Mr Gan explained.

"We will share more details when they are available," he said.

Another vaccine candidate, developed by United States firm Moderna, has also submitted its data and is currently being reviewed by HSA, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who also received his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine yesterday.

"If and when the Moderna vaccine is authorised for use, then we will also use it for the vaccination programme," he said.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines and have similar efficacy rates of around 95 per cent. mRNA is a genetic material that cells read to make proteins. After injection, cells in the body read this mRNA sequence to build spike proteins, and these protruding spikes and spike protein fragments can then be recognised by the immune system.

"I would think, between the two (Moderna and Pfizer), it's quite straightforward. Either one will do," Mr Wong said.

The Sinovac vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, a platform that has been used in many other shots, such as the polio vaccine.

"But we still need to look at the data, we still need to see if it's more efficacious - for example for specific sub-segments, we don't know yet," Mr Wong added, stressing that a detailed and comprehensive review will need to be done.

He urged the public to come forward to get vaccinated, instead of waiting for a specific brand of vaccine to get authorised, something which may or may not materialise.

"So, rather than hold out and wait, I think what we have today is an authorised vaccine that is safe and effective, and when the time comes, just come forward and get yourself vaccinated," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'Gan: Sinovac vaccine will undergo regulatory scrutiny before roll-out'. Print Edition | Subscribe