Singapore has received about 200,000 doses of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine as part of advanced purchases made last year, but these will not be used until the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the vaccine.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday said the HSA has asked the Chinese vaccine maker for more data, so that it can make an "adequate, full assessment".
The HSA is unable to complete its evaluation and give its provisional approval until that additional data is submitted, said the Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak.
They were responding during a virtual multi-ministry task force press conference to a question on why Singapore received the Sinovac vaccine before HSA had authorised it and whether the Republic was unable to turn down the shipments because it "wanted to avoid potentially upsetting Beijing".
The first shipment from Sinovac arrived in Singapore last month.
Mr Gan, who co-chairs the task force, said the delivery was made under a contract with the vaccine maker. He noted that having the Sinovac vaccines ready in Singapore will also speed up its roll-out once approval has been given.
Singapore had made advanced purchase agreements for three vaccines - the ones developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac - even before any approvals were made. These advance purchase agreements included a timeline on when the manufacturers would deliver the vaccines.
By making advanced purchase agreements, the Government was making some bets on the vaccines, recognising that some may not be effective, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong. "We wanted to do so early, so we would be early in the queue," he added.
HSA had designed a pandemic-specific approval framework which allowed vaccine companies to submit their data as soon as it became available, instead of waiting for a complete set of data, Associate Professor Mak said. This allowed the evaluation to start early.
Data was submitted promptly for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, allowing HSA to grant approval soon after, or just before these vaccines arrived.
While this gave the perception that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were delivered shortly after they were approved, the process was in fact based on a timeframe that had already been planned for and committed to under the advanced purchasing agreements, Prof Mak added.
"With the Sinovac vaccine, the delivery of the vaccine again was based on the purchasing agreement, there was no coercion, there's no influence by other bodies," he said.
Unfortunately, Sinovac did not submit a complete package of the data needed to complete the evaluation, Prof Mak added.
He gave the assurance that the Sinovac vaccine will not be used until the HSA has approved it, "because we want to show all Singaporeans that the vaccines have been fully evaluated and deemed to be both effective and safe for us".