There was no coercion or influence by "other bodies" over the delivery of China's Sinovac vaccine to Singapore prior to approval, the Ministry of Health's (MOH) director of medical services, Kenneth Mak said.
Mak was responding to a question at a press conference about why Singapore had received a shipment of the Sinovac vaccine before it was authorised for use, and whether such a move was because the country wanted to avoid upsetting Beijing.
The question, which was posed by the Financial Times, also noted that other vaccines had arrived at least a week after approval for use in Singapore.
In response, Mak pointed out that the delivery of the vaccines prior to approval was based on an advance purchasing agreement that had been made with the manufacturer themselves.
Advance purchase agreements made with all vaccine manufacturers
Minister for Education (MOE) Lawrence Wong also called the comparison with the other vaccines as "not exactly accurate", given that advance purchase agreements had also been made with the manufacturers of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, before their approvals.
Wong elaborated that these advance purchases were essentially a way of betting on some vaccines, with the recognition that some of them might not turn out to be effective.
In addition, the advance purchase agreements were also a way of being "relatively early in the queue" in obtaining vaccines for Singapore.
"That was the basis in which we went about making these advanced purchases.
It was only after the purchases were made that the companies started completing their trials, submitting data, and then they were subject to HSA's approval."
Taking delivery first also means rollout can be faster should approval be given
Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong pointed out that taking delivery of a vaccine prior to approval allows for faster rollout, instead of having to wait.
"The advance purchasing agreements included a timeline for when these vaccines will be provided. And based on that timeframe, these vaccines would be delivered to Singapore by the manufacturers in order to shorten the process by which approval would be done, and to allow vaccines to be administered to the population."
Mak further pointed out that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has since designed a pandemic-specific approval framework which allows for data to be submitted to authorities as it is available, and in tranches, so as to let the evaluation process begin early.
He clarified, "There's no compromise in the process of evaluation, but these little tweaks to the system allow for evaluation to start early and then allow for the full process of assessment to be done before approval then is granted."
In the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, data for both were submitted in a "timely fashion" for approval, he noted.
As such, the fact that their arrived on Singapore's shores shortly after approval was based on a timeframe that had already been planned for.
Sinovac manufacturer has not submitted enough data for evaluation to be completed
In the case of Sinovac, Mak said that the manufacturer has not submitted a "complete package" of data necessary to finish the evaluation process.
The HSA has therefore asked the manufacturer for more information, while evaluating the data that has been submitted thus far.
"Until that additional data is submitted, the HSA will not be able to complete its evaluation process, and therefore would not be able to give its provisional approval.
And until that approval from the regulatory authority is obtained, we will not be using the Sinovac vaccine, even though its arrived on our shores, because we want to show all Singaporeans that the vaccines have been fully evaluated, deemed to be most effective and safe for use before we actually use it in our vaccination campaign."
Top image via