Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine, under growing scrutiny over its effectiveness, has found a small but determined group of takers in Singapore — even though the country does not count them as being vaccinated in its official tally.
Singapore provides messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna free under its national vaccination program, but thousands of people have paid as much as S$25 (US$18.5) for Sinovac’s CoronaVac.
“I personally don’t trust [mRNA] results, compared with something that is traditional, which has been used for over 100 years,” said Tan Bin Seng, a retired Singaporean doctor, referring to inactivated virus vaccines.
Some see no downside to taking the Chinese-made vaccine, which is based on more established technology, as cases in Singapore are few.
They say that they are less confident in the long-term safety of newly developed mRNA vaccines.
Infectious-diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said that many of the locals signing up at his Rophi Clinic for Sinovac were in their 60s and echoed such fears.
Safety concerns have been amplified on social media, where locals share posts and experiences about the side effects of the mRNA vaccines.
Europe’s drug regulator last week said it had found a possible link between heart inflammation and mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, in line with US findings last month, although both said that the benefits of the shots far outweigh the risks.
Allergic reactions have been also reported after mRNA shots.
So far, regulators have mostly raised concerns about Sinovac’s efficacy, and there have been few reports of adverse effects.
Private clinics in Singapore had given more than 17,000 doses of CoronaVac as of early this month.
More than 6 million total doses of mRNA vaccine have been given in the city-state and about 2.4 million people are fully vaccinated.
As of July 1, Pfizer had shipped more than 860 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine worldwide.
Singapore, which has made vaccination a key pillar of its reopening plans, has reported many fewer cases than its neighbors, where fresh outbreaks have raised doubts about CoronaVac’s efficacy against new virus variants.
Thailand this week said it would use the AstraZeneca vaccine as a second dose for those who received the Sinovac shot, while Indonesia is considering a booster shot for those who received the two-dose Sinovac course.
The mRNA vaccines have shown efficacy rates of well over 90 percent against symptomatic disease in clinical trials, compared with trials for Sinovac that have shown results from as low as 51 percent to about 84 percent.
“There is no harm in taking Sinovac. Its efficacy rate may be relatively lower, but the risk of getting COVID-19 in Singapore is very low,” Singapore-based Chinese national Luo Qiufeng said.
Singapore gave the Sinovac vaccine an early vote of confidence through an advance purchase announced in December last year, which also included Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
However, it has only allowed private clinics to aminister the Sinovac vaccine after last month’s emergency-use approval by the WHO.
“Singapore doesn’t want to upset Beijing,” said Chong Ja Ian, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore.
Singapore’s health ministry has said that making CoronaVac available at private clinics allows access for those who do not wish to take the approved vaccines and that it was better to have some form of protection against COVID-19 than no protection at all.
However, Singapore has said it would not count Sinovac takers in its vaccination tally because of inadequate data, especially against the highly contagious Delta variant.
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