SINGAPORE: Advance purchases were made for COVID-19 vaccines, including China's Sinovac, to ensure that they can be administered in Singapore as early as possible, said the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force at a press conference on Wednesday (Mar 24).
These agreements were made before the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) approved any of the vaccines.
The task force was responding to a question on why the Sinovac vaccine arrived before it was authorised for use here, and whether Singapore was unable to turn down the shipment "because it wanted to avoid potentially upsetting Beijing".
Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), said that purchasing agreements were made with manufacturers of the Pfizer- BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac vaccines “sometime last year” before the completion of their Phase 3 studies.
“The advance purchasing agreements included a timeline for when these vaccines will be provided, and based on the time frame, these vaccines would be delivered to Singapore by the manufacturers,” Assoc Prof Mak said.
Singapore received its first shipment of the Sinovac vaccine on Feb 23. HSA said then that Sinovac had started submitting initial data, and that it was awaiting the submission of all necessary information to carry out its assessment. HSA said on Monday that it has started reviewing data on Sinovac.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Wednesday that as part of the contract with a supplier for Sinovac, 200,000 doses were delivered to Singapore.
"We allow the delivery to arrive, but we do not yet allow the vaccine to be used, because we haven't approved the use," he said.
DELIVERY ALREADY PLANNED
HSA had designed a pandemic-specific approval framework that allowed for information to be submitted to the authority as it was available, instead of waiting until all the data was available. This was “to allow for work to be done to start the evaluation process early”, Assoc Prof Mak explained.
“It so happened for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that the data have been submitted in a timely fashion. And that allowed the HSA to grant approval soon after, or just before these vaccines arrived on our shores and therefore there's a perception that the approval came and the vaccines and were delivered in short order,” he said.
“In fact, this was based on a time frame that already had been planned for, and committed to under the advance purchasing agreements.”
The delivery of the Sinovac vaccines was based on this purchasing agreement, he added.
Assoc Prof Mak noted that the Sinovac manufacturer had not submitted a complete package of all the data that was necessary to complete the evaluation process, and that HSA has requested more information.
“Until that additional data is submitted, HSA will not be able to complete its evaluation process, and therefore would not be able to give it its provisional approval,” he said.
He gave assurance that until such approval is given, and the vaccine has been “fully evaluated, deemed both to be effective and safe”, the Sinovac vaccine will not be used in Singapore’s vaccination campaign.
Co-chair of the task force Lawrence Wong added that Singapore was “putting some bets” on some vaccines, recognising that some of them may not turn out to be effective.
“We wanted to be able to do so early so that we will be relatively early in the queue and would be able to get some vaccines in for Singapore, so that was the basis on which we went about making these advance purchases,” he said.