Any Covid vaccine brought to Singapore will be safe: MOH

MOH director of medical services says suspension of AstraZeneca's trial is not uncommon

The experimental vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and researchers from the University of Oxford was widely expected to be publicly available as early as January next year.PHOTOS: REUTERS, TNP FILE
Ministry of Health’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak (above)

Singapore continues to keep a close eye on promising Covid-19 vaccines and engages pharmaceutical companies with a view of bringing these vaccines here, said the Ministry of Health's director of medical services Kenneth Mak yesterday.

In doing so, the Government will make sure that any vaccine is safe, will be able to deliver on its promise and is effective, Associate Professor Mak added.

His comments come as late-stage human trials for one of the leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates were put on hold after a participant fell ill, dealing a major setback as the world continues to reel from the virus.

Prof Mak told reporters at a multi-ministry task force press conference that the suspension of the trial by British drugmaker AstraZeneca is a safety measure and not uncommon.

He said: "As a precaution, they've suspended the recruitment into the study, if only just to make sure that this does not represent an adverse effect secondary to the vaccination.

"This can occur very easily with any other vaccine and this is why we've always been sharing that the road towards vaccine development is long and can be difficult.

"Just because we have several vaccine candidates that have engaged into phase three trials does not necessarily imply that we will have a vaccine ready for use in the immediate future."

The experimental vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and researchers from the University of Oxford was widely expected to be publicly available as early as January next year.

It was reported that the pharmaceutical giant aimed to produce two billion doses of the vaccine, inking deals with the US, Britain, Australia, Europe and two Bill Gates-backed ventures.

In a statement, AstraZeneca said the voluntary pause on the trial is a routine action stemming from a standard review after one person developed an unexplained illness.

The company said the possible adverse reaction was recorded in a single participant and pausing trials was common during vaccine development.

The New York Times reported that a volunteer in the British trials had developed transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.

AstraZeneca said it is too early to determine the sick participant's specific diagnosis.

Before it was put on hold, the trial had aimed to enrol as many as 50,000 participants in Britain, the US, Brazil and South Africa, with others planned for Japan and Russia.

As of Tuesday, 17,000 people across Britain, Brazil and South Africa had already been vaccinated, the Guardian reported.


The BBC said this is the second time since volunteers were first dosed in April that testing of the vaccine was put on hold.

Prof Mak said Singapore does not have further information on the suspension of the AstraZeneca trial and is looking forward to learning more so as to properly assess the safety and efficacy of the potential vaccine.

Many of the vaccine trials continue to be studied and conducted with confidentiality agreements, he said.

So while some companies and researchers have shared data on ongoing trials, he was not at liberty to divulge any information.

Last month, a locally-developed vaccine candidate had also started early-stage human trials.

Doses of Lunar-Cov19, jointly developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and US pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics, were given to about 100 people.

Prof Mak said: "We continue to watch very closely the conduct of these studies to make sure that the vaccine candidates that are currently promising really can deliver on their potential. This is the same also in Singapore."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant despite hopes that a vaccine will eventually emerge.

He said: "We need the cooperation and support of our workers, our employers... We also need to continue to push ahead with our TraceTogether and SafeEntry applications to allow us to contact trace effectively, test effectively and limit the spread going forward."

"We need everyone to work together to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe."