Newest vaccine included in COVAX program . . .
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved a COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm for emergency use. Sinopharm joins Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, and is the first non-Western vaccine to receive WHO approval. The WHO found the efficacy rate of Sinopharm to be 79 per cent. However, there were few adults over 60 included in the trials, so the Chinese vaccine’s efficacy rate was not confirmed for adults in that age group. Overall, the WHO approval signals to the world that the vaccine is safe and effective – it also means that Sinopharm can be included in COVAX, the global program aiming to send vaccines to lower-income countries.
China’s vaccine rollout stalling . . .
Despite the WHO approval, it is not clear when Sinopharm will be able to provide doses to the COVAX program. Officials in China are currently stating that there is a domestic shortage of vaccines and that the country is “struggling to manufacture enough doses for its own population.” While China has administered more than 332 million doses (the highest of any country in the world), that only accounts for approximately 23 per cent of the population. China has also not approved any foreign vaccine and largely relies on vaccines produced by Sinopharm and Sinovac to vaccinate its population. However, on Monday, the Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group was approved to producethe Pfizer vaccine, meaning a Pfizer approval in China could be on the horizon.
Implications for the global rollout . . .
If China overcomes its domestic shortage and begins supplying vaccines to COVAX and other countries, the impact on the global vaccine campaign would be significant. According to Bloomberg, more than 1.31 billion vaccine doses have been distributed worldwide as of May 10. But most of those vaccines have been administered in high-income countries, resulting in what the WHO has critiqued as a “shocking” global vaccine divide. The approval of Sinopharm could rapidly improve COVID-19 vaccine access for lower-income countries. Health experts are also looking to Sinovac, another COVID-19 vaccine produced in China, in potentially helping with the global rollout. It is expected that the WHO will issue a decision this week on whether Sinovac will receive emergency approval.
- The New York Times: China’s vaccine diplomacy just got a big win. But can the country deliver?
- Reuters: WHO approves Sinopharm vaccine in potential boost to COVAX pipeline
- South China Morning Post: WHO gives emergency approval to China’s Sinopharm vaccine