S'pore may get non-mRNA Novavax Covid-19 vaccine before year-end

Novavax, a protein-based vaccine, uses a laboratory-made version of the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein to stimulate an immune response.
Novavax, a protein-based vaccine, uses a laboratory-made version of the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein to stimulate an immune response.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore has signed advance purchase agreements with American biotechnology company Novavax to secure its protein-based Covid-19 vaccine, with supplies possibly arriving before the end of the year.

Singapore's Health Ministry (MOH) signed the agreements with Novavax in January this year, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (June 24) at a virtual press conference held by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19.

He added that MOH has been looking for vaccines of good quality, which are safe and effective, to be part of the national vaccination programme, and noted that Novavax has recently showed encouraging results.

Novavax has been shown to be more than 90 per cent effective against a variety of Covid-19 variants, based on late-stage data from its clinical trial in the United States.

Mr Ong said shipments of Novavax's vaccines will not be ready so soon, as it is still undergoing phase three clinical trials.

"In the meantime, please consider mRNA vaccines, they work very well," he added.

Currently only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which use the mRNA technology, are offered under the vaccination programme. These vaccines teach cells to make a protein that prompts an immune response.

Novavax, a protein-based vaccine, uses a laboratory-made version of the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein to stimulate an immune response.

Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it also requires two shots, spaced apart.

Earlier this month, a study of nearly 30,000 volunteers in the US and Mexico put Novavax on track to file for emergency authorisation in the US and elsewhere in the third quarter of the year, the company said on June 14.

The company added that its vaccine candidate was more than 93 per cent effective against the predominant variants of Covid-19 that have been of concern among scientists and public health officials.

Protein-based vaccines are a conventional approach that uses purified pieces of the virus to spur an immune response, and long-established vaccines against whooping cough and shingles employ this approach.

In Singapore, some people have opted for the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine, which uses deactivated coronaviruses to trigger an immune response, another conventional vaccine technology.

Sinovac was recently allowed for use here under the Special Access Route framework to enhance the country's overall vaccination coverage, though it is not authorised for use under the Pandemic Special Access Route and is not included in the national vaccination programme.

Some of the 24 private healthcare clinics which provide the Sinovac vaccine have seen long queues, with some people choosing to pay for a vaccine that uses a more conventional technology even though studies have found it less effective than the mRNA vaccines.

On Thursday, Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak was also asked about ancedotal stories of some people choosing the Pfizer over the Moderna jab, due to a supposedly higher rate of adverse reactions associated with the Moderna jab.

Noting that this observation has not been borne out by data, he said: "We have been looking at adverse events for all vaccines... and at this point in time, there is no signal to suggest a higher adverse event rate associated with Moderna."

He added: "We have been therefore encouraging all to get whichever vaccine is available, given supplies come in at different points in time... Neither is better than the other."

Read next: Singapore may ease Covid-19 rules for those vaccinated: How you would be affected