SINGAPORE: Individuals who are allergic to, or were previously rejected from taking the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, will be reimbursed by the Government if they decide to opt for the Sinovac COVID-19 jab at private clinics, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (Jun 4).
There are about 34,000 such individuals, said MOH in a press release, adding that details will be made known to them in the coming week.
The announcement comes as MOH said that it would select around 20 private clinics across Singapore to be licensed providers of the Sinovac vaccine under the Special Access Route.
These private providers will be able to draw from Singapore’s existing stock of 200,000 Sinovac doses.
“The vaccines from our current stock will be released for free to successful providers,” said MOH.
“Providers will be allowed to charge patients receiving the vaccine a fee to cover their costs.”
All Singapore citizens, permanent residents and individuals holding long-term visit passes may obtain the Sinovac vaccine at private clinics should they wish to, said MOH.
“This is ultimately a private arrangement, though facilitated by the government. MOH will draw up guidelines on proper counselling, informed consent and safe management of patients. However, as the vaccine remains unregistered, it cannot be covered by the vaccine injury financial assistance programme,” said the ministry.
Although Singapore has received supplies of the Sinovac doses, the vaccine has not been approved for use by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).
It has only given the green light to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are both based on mRNA technology.
READ: Some Singapore private healthcare providers consider offering Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine after WHO approval
READ: Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to be allowed in Singapore under special access route after WHO approval
On Friday, MOH also addressed suggestions from members of the public that HSA should approve the Sinovac vaccine to be part of Singapore’s national vaccination programme.
This follows the World Health Organization’s move to include the Sinovac vaccine in its emergency use listing (EUL).
“We would like to clarify that the WHO EUL pathway focusses on the needs of low- and middle-income countries with limited access to COVID-19 vaccines,” said MOH.
“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.”
MOH stated that healthcare regulators in many developed jurisdictions, including Singapore, typically conduct further rigorous evaluations beyond WHO emergency use listing approval before approving a vaccine for general use.
“We wish to reiterate that HSA evaluates all applications, regardless of their country of origin, based on the same standards and requirements,” said the ministry.
HSA is currently still awaiting outstanding data on the vaccine from Sinovac for it to complete its evaluation of the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine for inclusion in Singapore’s national vaccination programme, it said.
REMOVAL OF RESTRICTIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH ANAPHYLAXIS
MOH also said on Friday that it will remove mRNA COVID-19 vaccine restrictions for some people with a history of anaphylaxis, allowing them to receive Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs.
This will take effect on Jun 5.
The decision was taken after recommendation from the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination.
“Local and international data indicates that mRNA vaccines are suitable for use in persons with anaphylaxis not related to mRNA vaccinations or its components,” said the Committee in a separate release.
The Committee now recommends that persons with a history of anaphylaxis or allergic reactions to other drugs, food, insect stings, or unknown triggers can be vaccinated with a 30-minute observation period after the jab, it added.
Individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to any component of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine are still not recommended to receive the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
Currently, there are about 32,000 individuals who are not able to take the mRNA vaccines due to severe allergies, said MOH.
“With this change, we expect a large majority of the 32,000 individuals will now be able to take the mRNA vaccines under our national vaccination programme,” said MOH.
READ: Singapore accelerates national COVID-19 vaccination programme, students the next group to be inoculated
There are also about 2,000 people who had developed anaphylaxis or allergic reactions due to the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. This group should not receive an mRNA-based vaccine again, said MOH.
“To protect them against COVID-19, we are also evaluating and will bring in non-mRNA vaccines that are more suitable for them,” said MOH.
“We expect to do this before the end of this year after the vaccines are approved by the HSA for use in our national vaccination programme.”
The ministry said it would provide more details later when these vaccines are available.
The initial recommendation by the Committee for those with a history of anaphylaxis to not receive the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines was “out of an abundance of caution”.
This was in light of both overseas and local reports of anaphylaxis with the mRNA-based vaccines in individuals with a history of allergies, when the mRNA vaccines were first introduced, the Committee said in a release on Friday.
To date, more than 200 million doses of mRNA-based vaccines have been administered worldwide, said the Committee, adding that the data has been “reassuring” with no safety issues detected with vaccinating individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to other triggers.
The incidence rate of anaphylaxis reported locally with mRNA vaccines has stabilised at about 0.85 per 100,000 doses administered, a rate comparable to that reported internationally.
A total of about 4.2 million doses have been administered in Singapore, with almost 2.4 million people having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.