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Covid-19: Private clinics to be chosen to provide Sinovac vaccine, fees for selected vaccine-takers to be reimbursed

SINGAPORE — Some 200,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines that Singapore has in stock will be released for free to licensed private healthcare institutions that have successfully applied to administer it under a “special access route”, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (June 4) night.

Covid-19: Private clinics to be chosen to provide Sinovac vaccine, fees for selected vaccine-takers to be reimbursed

A vial of the Sinovac vaccine against Covid-19 taken in February 2021. The World Health Organization on June 1, 2021 approved this vaccine for emergency use.

  • MOH is allowing private clinics to apply to administer the Sinovac vaccine
  • People who get the vaccine will have to pay a fee
  • About 34,000 people who cannot take or are allergic to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will have their fees reimbursed if they take Sinovac
  • The news came after some doctors and members of the public started an online petition to have Sinovac given free
  • One retired doctor warned that mRNA vaccines are not working against the B1617 strain and Sinovac should be used

 

SINGAPORE — Some 200,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines that Singapore has in stock will be released for free to licensed private healthcare institutions that have successfully applied to administer it under a “special access route”, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (June 4) night.

These healthcare providers will be allowed to charge a fee to cover their costs, it added.

For the 34,000 people who had been rejected from taking the approved mRNA vaccines under the national vaccination exercise — namely Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — or people who were allergic to these messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines, the Government will reimburse them this fee if they decide to take the Sinovac vaccine.

Details will be made known to these individuals in the coming week, MOH said in its news release.

This is a change from its announcement on Monday that Sinovac and other alternative vaccines not yet authorised for use here will not be subsidised by the Government and those who choose to take it at private clinics will have to pay for the treatment. 

In its latest statement, the ministry also noted that some members of the public have suggested that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) should just approve the Sinovac vaccine for use as part of the national exercise, now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has added it to its list of vaccines to use in an emergency, called the Emergency Use Listing (EUL).

This is where WHO lists and assesses unlicensed vaccines during public health emergencies with the end goal of making these products available quickly to people who need them.

MOH said: “We would like to clarify that the WHO EUL pathway focuses on the needs of low- and middle-income countries with limited access to Covid-19 vaccines.

“It is a risk-based process that expedites the assessment of vaccines for use in a pandemic especially in these countries, where the benefits are deemed to outweigh the risks, despite uncertainties about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

“Healthcare regulators in many developed jurisdictions, including Singapore, typically conduct further rigorous evaluations beyond WHO EUL approval before approving a vaccine for general use.”

The ministry will work with private healthcare providers to administer the Sinovac vaccine. About 20 private clinics will be chosen to offer the vaccines should they show that they can “safely, properly and efficiently” do it, MOH said.

The clinics can provide the vaccine to all Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term visit pass holders who want to take it instead of what is now available on the national programme.

However, since Sinovac remains unregistered, it cannot be covered by a government financial aid scheme that supports people who suffer from adverse effects from their vaccine jabs, MOH said.

People who wish to be vaccinated with Sinovac should discuss with their doctors in the appointed providers about the risks and benefits and jointly make an informed decision, it added.

PETITION RELATED TO SINOVAC

Earlier on Friday, a petition was started online urging the Government to include Sinovac in the national vaccine programme, so that residents will be able to be inoculated for free. 

Presently, residents get the approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for free. 

The petition is signed by several people, including 12 doctors: Dr IW Yang, Dr Tony Ng, Dr Alan Lui, Dr WH Wong, Dr Frances Woon, Dr Chan Kai Poh, Dr Chai AM, Dr Catherine Ng, Dr Toh Keng Kiat, Dr Charles Ng, Dr Anthony Heng and Dr Kee Leng Chee.

Three doctors of these doctors — Dr Kee, Dr Yang and Dr Chai — were among the 12 who wrote an open letter to parents that was circulated last month, asking them to think through carefully before choosing to inoculate their children against Covid-19.

As of 11pm on Friday, the petition had more than 5,300 signatories.

In the open letter dated May 20 and addressed to parents, the doctors also called for a killed-virus vaccine to be approved for use here. 

Unlike the newer mRNA technology used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, this traditional approach uses a weakened or inactivated virus in the vaccine that is modified to trigger an immune system response.

MOH’s expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination responded to the open letter on May 21, saying that it had deemed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine safe and effective for children aged between 12 and 15, and that 11 out of 12 of the doctors who signed the letter have since retracted what they said.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Health who is a colorectal surgeon, expressed disgust at the doctors’ conduct, saying they “propagated myths and untruths”.

ANOTHER DOCTOR’S TAKE ON COVID-19 SITUATION

In recent days, a message by another doctor has been circulating on WhatsApp, where he talks about the use of mRNA vaccines, saying that they are ineffective in tackling the B1617 coronavirus variant that was first detected in India. 

The message originated from Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin, a retired oncologist who is a pioneer in liver cancer research here. 

Dr Oon, 82, played a key role in Singapore’s hepatitis B vaccination programme that began in the late 1970s. Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus. 

When contacted by TODAY on Friday, Dr Oon, who last practised at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, confirmed that the content of the message was from him.

In the message, he wrote that mutations in the spike protein of the coronavirus causing Covid-19 has altered its antigenicity — or its ability to bind to cell walls.

The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells so that it can bind with the cells more effectively and cause infection.

When the antigenicity changes, vaccines that use the new mRNA technology such as Pfizer-BioNTech cannot recognise the mutant variant such as the B1617 one. 

Only a vaccine such as Sinovac that has an inactivated virus “with all its seven antigens” can still produce an immune response even when one antigen of the active invading virus is affected by mutation, Dr Oon wrote. 

He added that the B1617 variant had successfully infected vaccinated frontliners and airport staff members, as well as school children in Singapore.

“Pfizer is useless now and obsolete in the presence of mutations on (the) spike gene,” the message read.

He also said in the message that “China vaccines” can overcome the B1617 variant and that he had written in to the authorities to consider using Sinovac.

The Sinovac vaccine may be suitable for children, and even babies, but at a lowered dosage, he added.

When asked by TODAY to comment more about his concerns, Dr Oon stressed again that mRNA vaccines are “useless” against the B1617 mutant and that the variant should be seen as a “new infection”. 

“I would say it is a time of emergency, a time to change and use another vaccine such as Sinovac, which we already have in stock,” he said, referring to the shipment of the vaccine Singapore received in February and pending approval for use here. 

Dr Oon continued: “If we keep vaccinating people with mRNA vaccines like Pfizer, we are endangering the lives of so many people around us who will still get infected, not to mention the person who is vaccinated."

It is a doctor's duty to call immediately for a change of treatment if it is not working for a patient who has a life-threatening condition, he said by way of example.

In offering his views on Covid-19, he said: “I did it for the love of my country and humanity.”

Dr Oon’s circulated message on WhatsApp mentioned that he had reached out to various Cabinet ministers, including Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, on the mRNA vaccines and Sinovac. 

Dr Oon confirmed that he had done this, at around the time news broke of the B1617 variant. 

He declined to give more details on the recommendations he proposed to the Government as mentioned in the message.

TODAY understands that MOH is aware of Dr Oon’s circulated message since last month and had addressed some of his concerns in the same statement last month issued regarding the open letter by the doctors to parents. 

That statement did not address Dr Oon’s concerns on how effective mRNA vaccines are on mutated variants. 

Related topics

Covid-19 coronavirus MOH Sinovac vaccination B1617 HSA WHO

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