MOH allows special access to Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine through private healthcare sector

MOH is working out details on pricing, informed consent process and safety of patients who opt to use Sinovac's vaccine. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine will be allowed under the Special Access Route (SAR), said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday (June 2).

This follows the announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday that it had approved the shot under its Emergency Use Listing.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, MOH said that given this latest development, the Sinovac product would be allowed under the SAR.

However, since the China-made vaccine is not part of the national programme, those who choose to receive it will not be eligible for the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme (Vifap) should they develop any adverse reactions.

MOH said it will release more details in the coming days on how private healthcare institutions can apply to be licensed providers.

It added that it is working out details on pricing, informed consent process and safety of the patients who prefer to be administered with Sinovac's shot.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had said on Monday that licensed healthcare institutions can apply to MOH to draw on Singapore's existing stock of 200,000 doses of the vaccine, which were delivered earlier this year.

However, MOH clarified on Wednesday that this is still a possibility that is being assessed.

The ministry added that as more international and local evidence and data become available, the Expert Committee on Covid-19 vaccination is also reviewing current restrictions to allow people with known history of anaphylaxis to be inoculated with the two mRNA vaccines currently approved for use here - those by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Both use messenger RNA to give instructions to the body's cells to produce a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. This allows the body to protect itself from the disease.

In contrast, Sinovac uses an inactivated form of the coronavirus to teach the body how to protect itself from Covid-19.

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Some private healthcare providers that ST spoke to were keen on offering vaccines under the SAR.

Dr Tan Teck Jack, chief executive officer of Northeast Medical Group, said his chain of clinics intends to offer such vaccines to help get the whole population inoculated as quickly as possible.

"We will be grateful if the Ministry of Health gives us some guidance. But we can also deal directly with the local representatives of any pharmaceutical company as required," he added.

He said although he did not know the price of the vaccines at the moment, his group aims to keep the cost affordable for patients.

"As this is part of a national initiative with a broader objective, it will not be profit-driven," he added, pointing out that the vaccination would probably be done on an appointment-only basis so as to avoid crowding.

Dr Raymond Ong, a senior doctor with telemedicine service provider Doctor Anywhere, said aside from aiming to offer the Sinovac vaccine at its clinics, the group also hopes to incorporate it into its mobile medicine service and bring the drug to peoples' doorsteps.

"We understand that some people may not be able to leave their homes to get vaccinated," he explained, adding that this move would depend on approval from the authorities.

Dr Seow En Hao, founder of EH Medical, said there is interest on the ground for Sinovac.

"These may be patients who are not allowed to take mRNA vaccines due to medical reasons or who chose not to take due to the fear of side effects from the current available vaccines," he added.

Some want the Sinovac vaccine as they want to travel to China "since China currently recognises only vaccinations done with its vaccines", he said.

He added that he is currently waiting for further instructions and approval from MOH before deciding whether to offer such vaccines.

Dr Khor Chin Kee, chief executive of Healthway Medical which operates 53 general practitioner (GP) clinics here, said the group was still evaluating the various alternative vaccines under the SAR, including Sinovac's.

Raffles Medical Group, which also has 53 GP clinics here, said it was waiting for instructions from MOH and evaluating Monday's announcement on the SAR.

Thomson Medical and Fullerton Health echoed this position.

For some members of the public, the announcement came a few days too late.

Retiree Goh Lam Woo, 83, had been waiting for months to take the Sinovac vaccine. But with the pandemic worsening, he decided to get the Pfizer-BioNTech one instead last week while accompanying his wife, who was also getting jabbed.

"I feel a little bit frustrated," he said of Tuesday's approval of the vaccine by the WHO.

He added that he had been reluctant take mRNA vaccines as they are a "new product", and would have preferred instead to take Sinovac's shot as he considers it a "true vaccine", similar to the kind used against flu, measles or polio.

"(Pfizer-BioNTech) can't tell you what the effects (of their vaccine) are one year down the road; what it's going to do to your organs," he said.

Others were not as enthused by the prospect of taking Sinovac's shot.

Ms Spring Victoria Zaccheus said she is unlikely to opt for it as the reported efficacy rate is lower than those of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"I don't feel safe taking it," said the 24-year-old student.

Although she has drug allergies that can cause "very bad swelling" around her eyes and may risk such a reaction to the mRNA vaccines, she added: "I would rather take the risk and take the Pfizer vaccination if possible, but wait there for an hour instead of just 30 minutes, in case anything were to happen."

Retiree Madam Toh, 80, has been unable to take the mRNA vaccines due to her history of anaphylaxis.

Some experts have said that certain nanoparticles in the mRNA vaccines may be the cause of allergic reactions to them.

But while Sinovac's vaccine may not contain such nanoparticles, Madam Toh is still reluctant to receive it.

"They have not really found out what allergies may be triggered as a reaction to Sinovac's vaccine. I suspect the emergency acceptance may have been a bit rushed because of the worldwide need for vaccines," she said.

She plans to wait a little longer and ask her doctor about the vaccine at her next medical check-up.

"I just have to be very careful in the meantime," she added.

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