SINGAPORE – Mr Javier Chua, 20, has a low blood platelet count and health conditions that often make him feel breathless.
For that reason, his mother – who wants to be known as Ms Wini, 52 – was worried about side effects if he took any of the two novel mRNA vaccines used in Singapore’s national Covid-19 inoculation drive.
Her preference was for him and other family members to opt for a traditional form of vaccine which uses an inactivated virus, such as the Sinopharm shot.
On Monday (Aug 30), Mr Chua, who just graduated from a polytechnic, his older brother and his parents were among 50 individuals who received their first doses of the Sinopharm vaccine at Gleneagles Hospital as part of a media preview and trial run.
It is the fourth Covid-19 shot offered in Singapore. The Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna options are mRNA vaccines while the Sinovac choice also taps an inactivated virus.
Gleneagles Hospital – part of private healthcare provider IHH Healthcare Singapore – will officially roll out the Sinopharm vaccine to the public from Wednesday (Sept 1).
IHH will also cater to requests at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, and two of its Parkway Shenton clinics at One Raffles Quay and Duxton.
Singapore’s Special Access Route allows private healthcare providers to bring in the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines as they are on the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Use Listing.
The Sinopharm vaccine, similar to the Sinovac one, is made of an inactivated virus studded with Sars-CoV-2 spike proteins. Once injected into the body, the vaccine will trigger the body’s immune response, teaching it to make antibodies against the virus.
Inactivated viruses are also used in vaccines for polio, hepatitis A and flu.
At 79 per cent, the Sinopharm vaccine’s reported efficacy rate is higher than Sinovac’s 51 per cent. This prompted Ms Wini and her family to wait for the Sinopharm arrival, with Sinovac available in Singapore for a few months now.
“We feel relieved and also happy that we finally got the vaccine we wanted,” she said on Monday.
Her husband, who wants to be called Mr Chua, said: “A number of our customers told us that there was quite a number of side effects from the (mRNA) vaccines.”
The couple, who were selling noodles in a coffee shop until July this year, are now looking for other work.
As at Aug 27, more than 6,000 people have indicated interest to receive the Sinopharm vaccine from IHH, said its chief operating officer Noel Yeo.
“Over the weekend, more people were calling up, and now it could be easily approaching 10,000 people… we are oversubscribed. That’s how popular it is.”
The first batch of IHH’s Sinopharm vaccine – close to 10,000 syringes – was shipped in on Aug 27. This means that, for a start, it can inoculate about 5,000 people, given that each person needs two doses.
“If the demand picks up, we will start to procure more. We are making plans for second orders but we have to clear approvals from HSA (Health Sciences Authority) first,” added Dr Yeo.
Clearbridge Health’s Medic Surgical and Laser Clinic at Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Raffles Medical Group also started to administer the Sinopharm vaccine from Monday.
A Clearbridge spokesman said more than 50 people booked appointments at the clinic on Monday and it is aiming to inoculate between 50 and 70 patients a day.
Raffles Medical, which has more than 10,000 registrations for the vaccine so far, is offering it at Raffles Hospital and Raffles Specialist at Shaw Centre.
Up to 2,500 people can be inoculated with its first vaccine batch, said a Raffles Medical spokesman.
At least two other private healthcare providers – Northeast Medical Group and Healthway Medical Group – are planning to meet the Sinopharm demand.
From the second or third week of September, Northeast’s clinic in Bedok will be offering the vaccine, with enough stock to serve about 5,000 people, said its chief executive Dr Tan Teck Jack.
Healthway is working to bring in the vaccine.
Two doses of the Sinopharm vaccine cost $99 at IHH and Raffles Medical, $98 at Clearbridge, and $90 at Northeast.
Clearbridge’s spokesman said its price factored in the cost of the vaccine, logistics, storage and doctor’s consultation.
Dr Yeo said: “I gave a mandate to my team, that each dose cannot cost more than a Universal Studios Singapore ticket. We are not here for profit, given that this is a means for us to provide more vaccine options for Singaporeans and residents.”
He added that patients will be charged $49.50 per dose.
“The reason is… sometimes some people may want to go to another provider if they are not so satisfied.”
Dr Tan said Northeast will bill patients the same way, “in case patients develop allergies, or are unsuitable for the next dose”. The first dose costs $45.
Compared with Sinopharm, Sinovac costs between $10 and $25 per dose.
But those who received the vaccine at Gleneagles Hospital on Monday were unfazed by the higher cost.
Business consultant Lam Pin Kee, 58, who is a pharmacist by training and had worked in healthcare for 30 years, read up about the available vaccines, before deciding on Sinopharm.
Although two of his daughters and wife took the mRNA vaccines offered for free by the national drive, he decided to wait for Sinopharm due to “personal preference and a time-tested vaccine type”.
As a start, Gleneagles Hospital will offer Sinopharm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, while Mount Elizabeth Hospital will do so on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from Sept 7. The Parkway Shenton clinics at One Raffles Quay and Duxton will cater to demand on all weekdays from Wednesday.
As at Aug 28, 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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