On Friday the World Health Organization (WHO) approved another coronavirus vaccine for emergency use; China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
The Sinopharm shot is the first non-Western country to be granted approval for a covid vaccine by the WHO and there are hopes that the new shot will be particularly effective in developing countries.
In announcing the authorisation, the WHO wrote that the Sinopharm shot had “the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk”.
Today’s news will enable the vaccination to be included in Covax, an initiative implemented by the WHO which aims to promote a more equitable global vaccine distribution.
While we know that the WHO has approved the shot for emergency use, the exact efficacy of the pharmaceutical has not yet been confirmed. The WHO typically employs a minimum threshold for vaccines of 50% efficacy, but the manufacturers have not yet released the Phase 3 clinical trial data to be assessed independently.
However previous reports of the Chinese vaccine effort have suggested a fairly low efficacy rate in preliminary trials, and one top official recently admitted that the nation’s home-made vaccines were not particularly effective.
Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference on global vaccines that the Chinese versions “don’t have very high rates of protection”, although he later claimed that he had been misunderstood.
How is the Sinopharm vaccine different to Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and other Western vaccines?
The Sinopharm vaccine is just one of two Chinese-manufactured vaccinations to be forwarded to the WHO for approval, although the other, CoronaVac, is yet to receive global authorisation. However both are already in use in China, as well as in other nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador.
The Chinese vaccines are developed in a more traditional way than the previously-approved covid-19 vaccines and so has some key differences to existing pharmaceuticals. They are known as ‘inactive vaccines’, which means that they introduce killed viral particles in the recipient’s immune system to expose them to a mild infection without risking a serious response.
Both the BioNTech/Pfizer and the Moderna vaccinations are known as mRNA vaccines, which means they introduce a snippet of the virus’ genetic matter into the recipient’s body so the immune system is better prepared to respond to it.
But perhaps the most promising thing about the Sinopharm vaccine is the ease with which it can be stored and transported, making it a far more attractive proposition in some parts of the world than the United States-produced shots. The extremely low storage temperatures of both the Pfizer-BioNTech (-80 to -60°C) and the Moderna (-25 to -15°C) vaccines makes distribution difficult in remote locations.
The Sinopharm shot, like China’s CoronaVax, can be stored between 2 and 8°C, making it easily accessible for populations around the world and in developing countries.1
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