Hong Kong will soon decide on its strategy for buying a vaccine to protect against the new coronavirus but waiting much longer could leave the city facing a shortage as nations rushed to secure supplies, a government adviser has said.
Scientists and companies across the world are competing to produce a safe and effective vaccine for the virus that has killed more than 610,000 people. Some governments are pushing ahead with orders even before the products are fully proven.
Early trial results of two vaccines, being developed by researchers at Oxford University and in mainland China, were published in The Lancet medical journal on Monday. Both claimed they produced immune responses in people participating in the trials.
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Professor Gabriel Leung, a public health expert advising the Hong Kong government on its Covid-19 response, told the Post he understood authorities were preparing to purchase vaccines.
“In the near future, the government should be able to decide on the procurement strategy,” he said. “Which types of vaccines to purchase, how to purchase, how to implement the details … [plans on] all these should be done soon.”
Leung, who also heads the medical school at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), warned officials had been moving more slowly than some other countries, several of which had approached him for advice on vaccine procurement as early as three months ago.
“The others have already made their order,” he said. “We are very late. If we don’t make any advance purchase agreement, it is impossible for Hong Kong to purchase the first or the second batch of vaccines when they are ready.”
According to a document published by the World Health Organisation on Monday, more than 160 candidate vaccines were being developed around the world, including 24 that had already entered clinical trials.
A source familiar with the situation said the Hong Kong government would probably procure the vaccines by signing direct contracts with individual manufacturers, which ensured the supply stated in the agreement.
“You can sign a contract stating how many vaccines you need, and the manufacturer then guarantees the amount they can offer,” the insider said.
That procurement method differs from how the vaccine being jointly developed by Oxford and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca is being offered. It is being sold via an advance market commitment, which requires buyers to make a larger payment up front, but they can lose out on any refund if the vaccine does not work.
Referring to nations that committed to the purchase, the insider said: “Even if the vaccine development succeeds, the amount of vaccine offered will only cover 20 per cent of the population.”
While the researchers in Britain and the mainland published promising findings, experts said further studies would be needed to ascertain the efficacy of the vaccines.
The mainland research is being carried out by the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and vaccine specialist Chinese CanSino Biologics.
“Only through large-scale phase three trials will we know whether there will be some less common side effects, which were not seen in phase one and two trials,” Leung said.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who also advises the government on its pandemic strategy, said additional data was needed to assess the Oxford vaccine.
“The safety and efficacy of the vaccine remain unclear, given there was only data for the first two stages of trials,” Hui said.
Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at HKU, cautioned that study participants who produced immune responses did not equate to the production of immunity. It remained unclear how long the immune responses will last, according to Ho.
“At the moment, there hasn’t been an effective and safe vaccine against the novel coronavirus yet,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong third wave: ‘mainland Chinese health authorities have offered Covid-19 help, with city likely to accept’
- In coronavirus vaccine race, Chinese and Oxford trials produce immune responses, offering hope in pandemic
- What happens next, as coronavirus vaccine trials move to a new phase?
- Donald Trump willing to work with China on coronavirus vaccine for US
This article Hong Kong third wave: government ‘close’ to deciding on strategy for buying Covid-19 vaccine first appeared on South China Morning Post