She wanted to get vaccinated when seniors were given the green light to get vaccinated earlier this year.
But with a history of anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions, Madam Doris Teo, 72, could not receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the two authorised by the Health Sciences Authority so far in Singapore.
The housewife, whose husband and three grown children are all vaccinated, told The New Paper yesterday in Mandarin: “My priority is taking care of myself and my family, but I can do that only if I don’t have to worry so much about potential exposure, like when I go to the supermarket.”
For Madam Teo and more than 30,000 individuals like her here, vaccination could soon be a possibility.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Monday that it would allow private healthcare providers to administer Covid-19 vaccines not yet authorised for use here, under the Special Access Route (SAR), a process for the import and supply of unregistered medicines to address unmet medical needs.
The SAR will be used for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are on its emergency use listing (EUL), MOH said.
The current listing includes vaccines by Oxford-AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), as well as China’s Sinopharm.
The Sinovac vaccine, of which Singapore has taken a first shipment of some 200,000 doses, is the latest to be added to the EUL, WHO said in a statement yesterday.
Unlike the approved vaccines under the national vaccination programme, vaccines administered under the SAR will not be free. Pricing will be decided by the private healthcare institutions offering them.
Those who want these vaccines will also need to sign a consent form to acknowledge that they have discussed it with their doctor and accept responsibility for the risks.
They will not be eligible for the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme (Vifap), a scheme that supports people who suffer from adverse effects from their Covid-19 jabs.
Despite the conditions, Madam Teo was relieved to hear the latest development.
She said: “I will get the alternative vaccine because I would rather be vaccinated than not at all.”
At least one private healthcare provider here is considering procuring such alternative vaccines and offering them to suitable candidates.
Dr Daniel Lee, general manager and chief operating officer of private healthcare provider Thomson Medical, told TNP: “Following MOH’s decision, Thomson Medical is considering offering WHO-approved vaccines to suitable patients who require them, according to clinically approved indications and age groups via the Special Access Route, based on expert recommendations.”
Other private healthcare providers said they would not comment until they received more information and guidelines from MOH.
Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam said while offering alternatives may cater to a more diverse population, it could “compromise the vaccine effort” if people are not using the most potent vaccine available.
He also said that alternative vaccines might be costly and there could be issues of authenticity.
Have shot, will pay
Software developer John Zhang, 38, said he would pay for Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines when they are made available.
The Singapore permanent resident from China said: “Many of my friends and family in China have taken these vaccines, and they have experienced little to no side effects.
“Getting vaccinated is important, so I don’t worry about the price.”
Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, a member of the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination, said that while she is concerned about side effects having an impact on individuals not covered by Vifap, she felt that access to alternative vaccines will be “broadly beneficial” in getting more people vaccinated and faster.
She added: “Providing alternative vaccines will reduce vaccine hesitancy because people like to know they have a choice.
“Those who are truly reluctant to take mRNA vaccines can get an alternative vaccine, so some protection is better than none.”
Different types of vaccines
One common vaccine type is made up of dead viruses that have been chemically inactivated and are no longer infectious. These include the vaccines produced by Sinovac, Sinopharm and Valneva.
Another type of vaccine makes use of a common virus, called adenovirus, to transport a small fragment of Sars-CoV-2 gene into cells. Such viral vectors are weakened so they pose little risk of causing illness. Examples of vaccines that employ adenoviruses include the ones produced by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and CanSino, as well as the Russian Sputnik V.
Other leading programmes from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax and Sanofi use biotechnology to manufacture either RNA or protein sub-unit vaccines and do not make use of viruses, dead or live.
This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.