WHO approves emergency use of China’s Sinopharm COVID vaccine

The World Health Organization has approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinopharm.

Friday’s decision by a WHO technical advisory group, a first for a Chinese vaccine, opens the possibility that Sinopharm’s offering could be included in the United Nations-backed COVAX programme in coming weeks or months, and distributed through United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and WHO’s Americas regional office.

Aside from efficacy numbers, the Chinese manufacturer has released very little public data about its two vaccines – one developed by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the other by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.

The Beijing shot is one the WHO advisory group considered for the emergency use listing.

“This afternoon, WHO gave emergency use listing to sign off on Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhahom Ghebreyesus said.

The Sinopharm vaccine will join ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, in receiving the coveted authorisation from the UN health agency.

“This expands the list of vaccines that COVAX can buy and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval and to import and administer a vaccine,” Tedros said at a Geneva news conference.

‘Very confident’

Previously, a separate group advising WHO on vaccines said it was “very confident” the Sinopharm vaccine protects people ages 18-59.

The group said it had a “low level of confidence” in the vaccine’s efficacy for people 60 and over.

Its members said they had “very low confidence” in the available data about serious side effects in that age group.

Sinopharm has not published its late-stage test results in scientific journals, so the WHO requested a breakdown of its data, which come mostly from the United Arab Emirates.

A summary posted online by WHO suggests the vaccine is about 78 percent effective, with the caveat that all but a few hundred of the study volunteers were younger than 60.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-runs COVAX, welcomed the announcement.

“This means the world has yet another safe and effective tool in the fight against this pandemic,” the alliance said.

The public-private partnership said it was in discussions with several manufacturers, including Sinopharm, “to expand and diversify the portfolio further and secure access to additional doses” for countries in the COVAX programme.

COVAX aims to send vaccines for free to 92 lower-income countries and to help another 99 countries and territories procure them.

It was not immediately clear when the Chinese vaccine might be made available to the COVAX portfolio.

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