May 07, 2021

WHO approves China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use

The World Health Organization on Friday (07) approved China’s Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.

The approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in Covax, the World Health Organization’s global initiative that is designed to promote equitable vaccine distribution around the world. WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) is a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply. and also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

A WHO statement states, "WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has also completed its review of the vaccine. On the basis of all available evidence, WHO recommends the vaccine for adults 18 years and older, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of three to four weeks. Vaccine efficacy for symptomatic and hospitalized disease was estimated to be 79%, all age groups combined."

“The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Health Products. “We urge the manufacturer to participate in the COVAX Facility and contribute to the goal of more equitable vaccine distribution.”

In October 2020,  China joined the COVAX Facility. In a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had said “We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX.”

The Sinopharm vaccine is produced by Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd, subsidiary of China National Biotec Group (CNBG).

Next week, the WHO will also consider another Chinese shot, made by the company Sinovac.

SL been awaiting for WHO approval

Sri Lanka, who received a donation of Sinopharm vaccines in March, has been awaiting the WHO approval as well.

Speaking at a discussion with the COVID-19 committee earlier today (07), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had urged officials to look urgently into the possibility of administering the Sinopharm vaccine.

At the request of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka received a batch of Sinopharm vaccines in March. However, the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) was awaiting WHO approval to give the green light for the vaccine to be used on local masses.

'Vaccine Maithri' halted

Sri Lanka saw a surge in COVID-19 cases after the Sinhala-Hindu New Year in April and the government began the administration of the second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on April 28.

However, delays of Astrazeneca consignments from India have led to fears of the impact it could have on the local immunization programme.

India, a major vaccine maker, stopped exports in the midst of its own worsening COVID-19 wave, affecting vaccine programmes in several countries including in Sri Lanka.

Last week, 'The Hindu' newspaper reported that India is unlikely to resume its Vaccine Maitri programme for the neighbourhood, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, until at least July, given the sudden crunch in the availability of vaccines amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases.

In this backdrop, India has had to suspend the export of both commercial and grant-based vaccine doses to countries, including those in the neighbourhood who had already paid for the shipments, with the last batch going out at the beginning of April, when the second wave of the pandemic hit India, leading to record numbers of cases and deaths.

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