China OK’s first home-grown vaccine as COVID-19 rises globally

Beijing China approved its first home-grown COVID-19 vaccine for general use on Thursday, adding another shot that could see widespread use in poorer countries as the virus rises back around the world.

The Sinopharm vaccine had already been given to groups such as healthcare professionals and essential workers under emergency use guidelines as part of China’s program to inoculate 50 million people before the lunar New Year holiday in February. But the green light should make it possible to supply it more widely at home and move Beijing closer to being able to send it abroad. It will come a day later UK regulators approved AstraZeneca’s cheap and easy-to-handle vaccine.

Both shots have been closely monitored by developing countries, many of which have been unable to secure the Pfizer and Moderna doses that were intercepted by rich nations. Pakistan’s science minister said on Thursday his government would buy 1.2 million doses of a Sinopharm shot, two days after its death toll peaked at 10,000.

The green light came the day after the state-owned company announced that preliminary data from trials in the final phase had shown it to be 79.3% effective. This communication did not detail the size of the control group, how many people were vaccinated and at what point the efficacy rate was reached after injection, and experts have warned that experimental data should be shared.

Officials have said the vaccine standards have been developed in “close cooperation” with the World Health Organization. Ensuring WHO’s so-called pre-qualification can go a long way towards reassuring the rest of the world about the quality of Chinese vaccines, which are already facing a reputation problem at home. It would also pave the way for the shots to be distributed in the global vaccine consortium, COVAX, and potentially in countries that do not have their own regulatory agencies.

China is eager to send its vaccines globally, driven by a desire to repair the damage to its image caused by the pandemic that started a year ago in the central city of Wuhan.

Technically, China has given conditional approval of the vaccine, which means that research is still ongoing and the company will be required to submit follow-up data as well as reports of any side effects after the vaccine has been sold on the market, Chen Shifei, Deputy Commissioner for National Medical Products Administration, told a press conference. The final proof of its effectiveness will depend on the publication of more data.

Sinopharm, which has another shot under development, is one of at least five Chinese developers in a global race to create vaccines against the disease, which has killed more than 1.8 million people. While the Pfizer and Moderna footage has been met with great fanfare in the West, these images need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures or freezing temperatures, complicating distribution.

The Sinopharm vaccine, like the AstraZeneca vaccine, can be easier to handle for countries around the world as it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures.

Both shots, as well as Russia’s Sputnik, are expected to supply much of the developing world. This means that costs will also be important. AstraZeneca is expected to cost around $ 2.50 per share. dose, while Russia has said its doses will be priced at $ 10 for the global market. Pfizer’s vaccine costs around $ 20, while Modernas’s are $ 15 to $ 25, based on agreements with the US government.

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Chinese officials declined to mention a specific price and gave conflicting opinions about it. One official said it would be affordable for the Chinese public, but another jumped in to clarify that it would be free. President Xi Jinping had previously promised to donate a Chinese-made vaccine as a public good to the world.

The Sinopharm shot is already under mass production, although officials did not answer questions about the current capacity. It has already been approved in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and is scheduled for next time in Morocco.

Other countries have also purchased doses of another Chinese vaccine candidate, made by Sinovac Biotech. Turkey received shipments of 3 million doses this week, and Indonesia and Brazil have also bought it.

Belarus and Argentina both launched mass vaccinations on Wednesday using Russia’s vaccineand Guinea has begun giving it to officials.

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In addition to the emergency vaccinations already underway in China, the country plans to begin vaccinating the high-risk population, such as seniors as well as people with pre-existing chronic diseases. Officials did not say what percentage of the population they want to vaccinate in China.

“It’s very exciting that there’s another vaccine and one that can be distributed in places that do not have the cold chain,” said Ashley St. John, an immunologist at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “But at the same time, we need to dampen the excitement. We need to understand the long-term effect, the effect on transmission and the effect on serious illness.”

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