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Local research team to reserve 8 million doses for Macau, Hong Kong residents but Macau officials hesitant on vaccine acquisition

The Macau SAR government says it has been keeping a close eye on the locally-developed breakthrough on a potential COVID-19 vaccine and plans to procure doses as quickly as possible once any vaccine is approved.

The Faculty of Medicine at Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) worked in collaboration with scientists from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) to develop a vaccine using the Spike protein receptor-binding domain (S-RBD).

The research found that the candidate vaccine induced a “potent functional antibody response” in immunized mice, rabbits and monkeys and that these antibodies effectively blocked S-RBD from binding with the host cell receptor as it does in cases of infection, therefore neutralizing the virus during laboratory studies.

At a press conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the research team said it will now start using the vaccine in clinical trials on human subjects within weeks to evaluate its safety. Professor Manson Fok, Dean of Health Sciences at MUST, and Dr Johnson Lau, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology of PolyU, said they will reserve 8 million doses for Macau and Hong Kong assuming the vaccine proves safe and can be mass produced as expected.

Officials of the Macau Health Bureau responded on Monday by emphasizing that while the news was encouraging, they would wait for Phase III clinical trials before committing to acquiring the vaccine. In Phase III trials, the vaccine must prove safe and effective on dozens of people.

“We are keeping an eye on the latest development of vaccines around the globe,” explained Alvis Lo Iek Long, clinical director of the Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre.

“But we must consider which one would be the best and safest amongst others. The vaccine must pass the Phase III clinical trials and get approval from relevant regulatory authorities, and it must reach the conditions to be produced on a large scale.

“It’s too early to expect the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by the local research team.”

Although the SAR government has not yet revealed its vaccination plan, it said it expects groups in higher risk categories would receive vaccines first based on the most recent swine flu vaccination experiences of 2009.

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