China’s COVID vaccines are going global

  • Wed, 19 May 2021 11:37:27 GMT
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has authorized the first of China’s COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, and another could be listed in the coming days, opening the door to wide distribution in lower-income nations through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative.

The listing will boost global confidence in these vaccines, say scientists. China's five different vaccines have not been used widely in wealthy nations, but are already sustaining immunization campaigns in the global south.

The first vaccine to be listed is made in Beijing by Chinese state-owned firm Sinopharm. The other under review — named CoronaVac — is produced by private company Sinovac, also based in Beijing. Five COVID-19 vaccines are already authorized by the WHO, but unlike these, the Chinese ones use inactivated virus and are not widely used in Western nations.

Sinopharm and Sinovac’s vaccines account for the bulk of shots given in China, which has so far inoculated 243 million people. More than 45 countries have already approved their use, but the WHO is among the first stringent regulatory authorities to review the data.

“It is very important to have the support of the WHO,” said Rafael Araos, a physician and epidemiologist at University for Development in Santiago, before the Sinopharm vaccine was listed. A positive response will be “very good news for the vaccine developers and for the countries that are interested in getting these vaccines”.

CoronaVac and both Sinopharm vaccines are the mainstay of China’s own immunization drive, which aims to vaccinate 70% of its population of 1.4 billion by the end of 2021. China approved its first COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use in June 2020 and began rolling out doses more widely in January.

So far, only Chinese vaccines have been listed by the country’s drug agency, which since December has approved both Sinopharm’s vaccines; CoronaVac; and a fourth vaccine produced by CanSino Biologics in Tianjin, which uses an adenovirus to introduce DNA encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into human cells.

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