Singapore to vaccinate parts of population against COVID from 2021

Syringes of SARS CoV-2 Vaccine for COVID-19 produced by SinoVac are displayed during a media tour of its factory in Beijing on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. A Chinese health official said Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, that the country's annual production capacity for coronavirus vaccines will top 1 billion doses next year, following an aggressive government support program for construction of new factories. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Syringes of vaccine for COVID-19. (AP file photo)

SINGAPORE —Singapore plans to vaccinate parts of its population against COVID-19 from next year following the completion of phase three clinical trials into the leading vaccine candidates, said a top health ministry official on Tuesday (20 October).

Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who was speaking at a press conference chaired by the virtual multi-ministry COVID-19 task force, said that Singapore may procure, not just one or two, but a range of different vaccines, which could arrive here as early as the end of this year.

“But more realistically, I think many of the vaccine candidates will only complete phase three studies, sometime next year. These results then will be carefully studied and the vaccines then would undergo a registration process before we can bring them into Singapore,” said Assoc Prof Mak.

“So it would be more likely that we would be making plans to vaccinate the different parts of our population from next year onwards, rather than sometime this year.”

Suitability for different vaccines will vary across different groups of the population, Prof Mak stressed.

Authorities are finalising the details for the vaccination exercise, he said, including the possibility of prioritising the vulnerable population as well as those who are more at risk of getting infected with the virus, such as healthcare professionals and other front-line workers.

“(The) actual prioritisation in terms of who will be vaccinated will need to be further finalised after the discussions of the expert panel and their recommendations to us. So that's the current situation as it is,” Prof Mak added.

Local authorities have earlier assured that if and when an effective vaccine becomes available, every Singaporean who needs it can get it at an affordable price.

The only COVID-19 vaccine being tested here – the Lunar-CoV19 jointly developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and Arcturus Therapeutics – is expected to complete its combined phase one and two trial in December.

There are 44 vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation – including Lunar-CoV19 – and 154 in preclinical evaluation as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization.

The clinical development of a vaccine is a three-phase process, where small groups of people, usually fewer than 100, receive the trial vaccine in phase one. In phase two, the vaccine is then given to those who share similar characteristics to those for whom it is intended.

In the third phase, the vaccine is administered to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety for the general population.

In recent months, two major US pharmaceutical companies have halted late-stage vaccine trials. Johnson & Johnson announced last week that it was pausing all trials due to an “unexplained illness” in a study participant.

In September, trials by AstraZeneca and Oxford University were paused after a UK volunteer developed an unexplained illness. It has since resumed all trials, except in the US.

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