HK allows residents to choose vaccine due to concerns but not Singapore

In Parliament on Monday (4 Jan), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Singaporeans and long-term residents of Singapore that they will not be allowed to choose which type of COVID-19 vaccine to take, as this would “unnecessarily complicate the already complex vaccination programme”.

Sharing some details of the programme, Gan said people will need to make a booking before visiting vaccination centres for the COVID-19 shot, and will not get to choose the vaccine they want.

Following the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine last month, more vaccines are expected to arrive here in the next few months, including those by US firm Moderna and China’s Sinovac, Gan said.

“Anyway, in the immediate term, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use. So there is no choice,” he said, adding that Moderna’s and Sinovac’s vaccines are still being evaluated for safety and efficacy.

Singaporeans and long-term residents will be eligible for the free COVID-19 vaccination programme administered in Singapore.

At the same time, SCMP reported that Hong Kong, which has secured doses of the Pfizer, Sinovac and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, does allow its residents to choose which vaccine they wanted to take. The announcement followed concerns that some residents would resist taking a vaccine manufactured by the Chinese firm, Sinovac.

In any case, Gan urged Singaporeans to get vaccinated, saying this would allow the economy to return to normality but stressed that the programme would be voluntary. In the past two weeks, Singapore has reported just 11 infections in the community compared to 264 that were imported.

Sinovac’s CEO bribes Chinese regulator to expedite its vaccine approvals

Meanwhile, it has been reported by Washington Post that Sinovac CEO had been caught bribing a top Chinese vaccine regulator for the past several years in order to help expedite the approvals of vaccines manufactured by his company (‘Sinovac CEO caught for bribing Chinese regulator remains unscathed and continues to oversee COVID-19 vaccine development‘).

Sinovac’s CEO Yin Weidong speaks to journalists during a tour of a vaccine factory in Beijing on 24 Sep 2020 (AP Photo).

Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong was not charged for bribing Yin Hongzhang, the former deputy director of the China Food and Drug Administration’s drug-testing center which oversees vaccine reviews. Yin Hongzhang, on the other hand, was sentenced in 2017 to a decade in prison for taking bribes. The 2 Yins are not related.

While Yin Hongzhang admitted to graft, Sinovac’s CEO said in his testimony that he “could not refuse” requests from a regulator. The Sinovac’s CEO was not charged and continues to oversee the company’s COVID-19 vaccine development.

Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator who has probed pharmaceutical corruption cases in China, called it “a bit extraordinary” that Sinovac emerged unscathed in 2017, despite its CEO confessing to bribing the Chinese regulator.

From past court records seen by The Post, Sinovac’s CEO admitted to giving more than US$83,000 in bribes from 2002 to 2011 to Yin Hongzhang and his wife. Yin Hongzhang himself had confessed to expediting vaccine certifications in return, for Sinovac’s hepatitis A, SARS, avian flu, foot-and-mouth disease and influenza A vaccines.

Sinovac’s fortune rose when it was handpicked by Beijing officials to lead development of vaccines for SARS, avian flu and swine flu starting from 2002.

Gleaning from court documents, The Post further revealed that not only Yin Hongzhang had admitted to taking bribes, at least 20 other Chinese officials and hospital administrators across five Chinese provinces had also admitted in court to taking bribes from Sinovac employees.

“In the vaccine industry, we usually give a commission to the person in charge to encourage them to use our vaccines,” one Sinovac’s salesperson said in a 2017 case in the southern province of Guangdong. The salesperson admitted to giving a hospital staff US$2,441 in kickbacks — “always through envelopes of cash” — as a reward for the hospital purchasing 5,351 doses of Sinovac’s hepatitis A vaccine from 2011 to 2015.

A number of details from the court cases have not been reported previously, in part because of China’s censored media, said The Post.

As of last month, Sinovac has not yet released efficacy data for its COVID-19 vaccine, making it unclear whether its vaccine can protect recipients as successfully as the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, which were more than 90 percent effective in preliminary analyses.

“The fact that the company has a history of bribery casts a long shadow of doubt over its unpublished, non-peer-reviewed data claims about its (COVID-19) vaccine,” said Arthur Caplan, medical ethics division director at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Even in a plague, a company with a morally dubious track record has to be treated with great caution concerning its claims.”

Vaccine mishaps continued to occur in China in recent years. Two years ago, another Chinese vaccine firm Sinopharm recalled 400,000 shots of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine for substandard quality.


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