When a coronavirus vaccine is finally produced, it is not likely to be available in large quantities, so the authorities may have to prioritise its distribution, the Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said yesterday.
He was responding to a question on whether Singapore had signed any supply contracts for the vaccines currently under development, and whether such a vaccine would be mandatory for those living here.
Associate Professor Mak said during a multi-ministry task force press conference that the authorities had not yet decided whether the vaccine would be mandatory, and pointed out that there may be a limited supply when it is first made available.
"There will be many countries wanting to have access to these vaccines, and the companies will have to ensure access for as many countries as possible," he said.
As a result, the initial stages of vaccine distribution will probably see different people being prioritised, such as "vulnerable patient groups who would possibly have a higher risk of adverse outcomes, morbidity and even mortality if they get infected with Covid-19".
Front-line workers caring for coronavirus cases are also a likely priority group, he said, adding that no further decisions on other priority groups have been made at this point.
Another factor is the type of vaccine that is produced, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was also at the press conference.
As of Thursday, there were 30 vaccines undergoing clinical trials around the world, with another 139 in pre-clinical stages.
Most of these vaccine candidates require different doses to be administered at different timings, and work through a variety of methods.
"Some of these vaccines may be suitable for certain groups of people, may be not suitable for other groups of people. So how we deploy them will depend on the candidate vaccine that is available to us, and it also depends on the quantity that's made available," said Mr Gan.
He added that it is currently too premature to talk about Singapore's vaccine deployment strategy as there are many factors to be taken into consideration.
"But I assure you that we are actively pursuing this front and also planning our strategy, going forward, as and when these vaccines become available," he said.
Prof Mak said that he could not share more information on which countries or companies Singapore had signed contracts with for the vaccine, due to agreements of confidentiality.
However, he highlighted that Singapore is participating "quite actively" in the World Health Organisation's Covax Facility.
This facility aims to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to a Covid-19 vaccine for every country regardless of its financial status, amid concerns that the price of a vaccine might be inflated and it may be inaccessible due to high demand.
"We continue to encourage other like-minded countries to participate in this facility as well, with a view towards ensuring that there's access to vaccines once they have completed the various trials and are deemed to be effective and safe. And we do promote and encourage greater access of the vaccines for various countries rather than having to adopt a more protectionist approach," said Prof Mak.
Singapore now has one vaccine candidate in the global race, Lunar-Cov19, which is being jointly developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics.
Clinical trials for this vaccine are under way here, with the first batch of local volunteers dosed earlier this month.