Coronavirus: China’s Sinovac shots readied for mass roll-out in Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand

Simone McCarthy
·4-min read

Covid-19 vaccines produced by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac are poised to be rolled out in several Southeast Asian countries, as a company official said interim efficacy data would be ready soon.

Indonesia said it would start a mass vaccination programme with the CoronaVac made by Sinovac on January 13, with President Joko Widodo first in line to receive the jab.

Indonesia is planning to vaccinate 181.5 million people, or roughly 67 per cent of its population, to reach herd immunity, according to its health minister, Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

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The country has also placed orders to buy 50 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca respectively..

On Monday, Manila’s envoy to China, Chito Sta Romana, said Chinese vaccine makers Sinopharm and Sinovac would apply this week for an emergency use authorisation (EUA) with the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration.

The Philippines aims to finalise negotiations with Sinovac Biotech to acquire 25 million doses of its vaccine for delivery by March.

Meanwhile, Thailand is expecting to get 200,000 doses of CoronaVac next month, 800,000 in March and another 1 million in April.

Bio Farma, Sinovac’s Indonesian partner, said the interim data of clinical trials would be ready this month.

“The clinical trials are still on schedule to complete the monitoring phase. We are prepared to send an interim report to our National Regulatory Authority (Badan POM) for emergency use authorisation in January 2021,” said Bambang Heriyanto, a Bio Farma official.

The final efficacy data was expected to be finished in May or June, he said.

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The findings in Indonesia, involving 1,620 participants, would be combined with results from trials in Turkey, Brazil and Chile for the overall efficacy and safety assessment, he said.

In December, Bio Farma withdrew an announcement that the interim data showed CoronaVac to be 97 per cent effective.

Bio Farma would also start to “fill and finish” 15 million CoronaVac doses for distribution from mid-January, Heriyanto said.

Bio Farma, Indonesia’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is the second pharmaceutical to take part in the production process of Sinovac vaccines, a move that is expected to significantly increase the distribution of the vaccines in Indonesia, or even in Southeast Asia in the future. Sinovac is also being produced in Brazil.

It is a common practice for vaccine producers to sign contracts with local partners to take up the time-consuming procedures of filling the vaccines in vials.

Workers unload Sinovac vaccines from a truck under police escort in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Monday. Photo: AFP
Workers unload Sinovac vaccines from a truck under police escort in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Monday. Photo: AFP

Indonesia has so far received 3 million doses from Sinovac. The two companies signed a deal in August to enable Bio Farma to produce at least 40 million doses in Indonesia before March 2021.

Heriyanto said the drug company had a fill-and-finish production capacity of 250 million doses per year and had set a target of 227 million doses for this year.

So far Sinovac is the only supplier of bulk vaccines for Covid-19.

But Heiyanto said that there was still a shortage to meet local demands and that it was still looking for other partners. “Our challenge is that our fill-and-finish capacities are still lower than the national vaccine needs, and we are currently exploring supply partnerships with other partners,” he said.

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Sinovac had made an initial commitment to supply 140 million doses, he said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is an important front of China’s “vaccine diplomacy”.

In an interview published by the official news agency Xinhua last weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for more public health and vaccine cooperation with Asean countries in fighting the pandemic. But he said it was “malign” to speculate if China had attached strings in supplying vaccines to developing countries.

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