Sinovac checks ordered before HK rollout

Top News | Jane Cheung 14 Jan 2021

Medical experts will decide whether to approve the registration for emergency use of Beijing-made Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said after clinical trial results in Brazil showed a low 50 percent efficacy.

But Sinovac's executive director Yin Weidongdong yesterday insisted its vaccine provides good protection. He vowed to supply Hong Kong the first batch of 1 million shots among 7.5 million the SAR government agreed to procure by the end of this month as scheduled.

This came as the general efficacy of the vaccine was 50.38 percent in a late-stage trial in Brazil, the company's local partners Butantan Institute announced - lower than the clinical efficacy of 78 percent announced last Thursday.

Brazilian researchers said the trial was split into six categories - asymptomatic, very mild, mild, two levels of moderate and severe - with the first two not requiring medical assistance.

The 78 percent was calculated considering only the mild, moderate and severe cases. But when very mild cases among the 13,000 volunteers were also included, the figure was 50.38 percent. It is well below the 70 percent recommended by Beijing and the World Health Organization.

To achieve the optimal protection, recipients should receive the two-dose vaccine 14 days apart.

In comparison, vaccines by German pharmaceutical firm BioNTech and US company Moderna were found to be 94 to 95 percent effective in their late-stage trials.

Hong Kong has procured 7.5 million shots from BioNTech, with the first batch of 1 million expected to arrive next month and inoculations beginning shortly afterwards.

The SAR government has also procured 7.5 million British Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines whose efficacy proved to be 62 percent with two full doses and 90 percent in one and a half doses. Initial batches will arrive mid-year. Nip, who is in charge of the city's vaccination program, said the government's panel of experts overseeing vaccination will be meeting this week to review the vaccines' clinical data.

Asked whether it is too late to reject Sinovac jabs if the efficacy is eventually deemed undesirable, Nip said the government signed advance purchase agreements with pharmaceutical firms to ensure stocks for Hong Kong amid a tight global supply. But he said inoculation will only be carried out when the experts consider the jabs effective and safe.

However, Covid-19 government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg that Sinovac had pushed behind announcement of phase III clinical trial data on three occasions and "that would delay the assessment of their application."

But in a Beijing press briefing yesterday, executive director Yin said Sinovac has submitted documents and information required for registration to the SAR government.

Local doctors said it is too early to judge, given the incomplete statistics, and more information such as age distribution of volunteers has to be announced to determine the effectiveness.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong asked the government to think twice when administering the Sinovac jab to high-risk elderly people who have poorer immunity and may only have limited protection.

Its president William Chui Chun-ming called for the government to consider inoculating care home residents and senior citizens with the European-made BioNTech vaccine.

"But we should not ditch Sinovac jabs. There is a global demand for vaccines and we may not have enough shots for the entire Hong Kong population if we do so. We can reserve the Sinovac ones for young and healthy citizens, who should enjoy a protection rate of 50 percent," he said.

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January 2021

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