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Here's where Pfizer's vaccine stands in Asia

Bloomberg12/3/2020 07:05 PM GMT+08  • 3 min read
Here's where Pfizer's vaccine stands in Asia
The quick approval of Pfizer Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine in the UK isn’t likely to accelerate the availability of the shot in Asia.
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The quick approval of Pfizer Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine in the UK isn’t likely to accelerate the availability of the shot in Asia, as countries work to complete local safety tests and negotiate deals.

Asia’s biggest economies including China and Japan still need to finish domestic clinical trials to demonstrate the Pfizer shot is safe, and even then, most countries have set deliveries for next year. In addition, some developing nations in Asia with the biggest outbreaks don’t have deals with Pfizer, and lack the means to distribute and store the vaccine, which needs to be kept at a deep freeze.

The U.K.’s approval doesn’t automatically make the vaccines available elsewhere. Pfizer’s shot needs to contend with a maze of regulations and data submissions in every country. Many endorsements are contingent on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration giving the vaccine the go-ahead, which is expected as early as Dec. 10.

While every country is anxious for inoculations to stem the pandemic, much of Asia is in better shape than the West, somewhat lessening the urgency for a quick vaccine. Australia, which is seeing very few cases in the community, said its timeline for the Pfizer shot remains unchanged, with a decision on approval expected by next January and the first vaccine delivery likely in March.

“Australia is in a much better position in terms of number of cases and community transmission than the UK,” said Adam Taylor, a virologist at Griffith University in Queensland. “Australia can afford to wait for full approval for use of the vaccine.”

Of the places with the biggest and most urgent outbreaks -- the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia -- only Malaysia has a deal with Pfizer, and it needs to await approval from the US FDA as well as the local regulator’s nod. Malaysia’s health-director general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said there’s no intention to put the vaccine on fast-forward in light of the UK's decision.

The Philippines and Indonesia, meanwhile, are depending on vaccines developed by China, which are currently still undergoing trials.

Japan’s laws allow a vaccine to be approved for emergency use if another country with similarly rigorous drug regulatory standards has it approved, including the UK. But Pfizer said in October that it plans on applying for vaccine approval using data from the global trial and a separate trial in Japan, which is ongoing.

The Japanese government’s top spokesperson said Wednesday the country would work to confirm efficacy and safety of the Pfizer vaccine if an application for approval has been submitted.

A similar process is set to be followed in China, where Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group has the local license to distribute the Pfizer vaccine. In Hong Kong, authorities have a practice of green-lighting medications after they are cleared by the U.S. FDA, and this is likely to apply to Pfizer’s vaccine.

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