WHO Boost for vaccination programme

Bernard Mpofu

Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has received a major boost after the World Health Organisation indicated it would grant emergency use listing of a coronavirus vaccine made by Chinese firm Sinopharm.

Zimbabwe became one of the first countries in Africa to take delivery of the vaccine at a time most countries turned to Western vaccines to reduce the severity of the respiratory ailment which has claimed over a million people across the globe. The southern African country also became the first in Africa to authorise the use of India’s Covaxin vaccine amid concerns that it might miss out on the next supplies after shortages hit the Asian country, which has been ravaged by the virus.

The WHO’s granting of this status means that the vaccine, developed by Sinopharm with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, can be used to bolster WHO-backed efforts such as the Covax initiative to share doses equitably around the world.

It is also a major boost to international recognition for Sinopharm’s vaccine and for Chinese pharmaceutical research. It marks the first time that any Chinese-made vaccine received emergency authorisation from the WHO.

“This expands the list of Covid-19 vaccines that Covax can buy and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a recent news briefing.

Jennifer Huang Bouey, an epidemiologist who works with the Rand Corp., said WHO’s backing for the virus would be a reassurance to developing nations without access to vaccines produced in the United States or Europe.

The emergency approval, reached by independent experts in a technical advisory group under consultation with WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, is for adults over the age of 18 with a two-dose regimen.

Critics say although the Sinopharm vaccine is already in widespread use around the world with an estimated 65 million doses administered, its developers have released only limited information about the vaccine’s efficacy and side effects.

A SAGE report released in May said it was “very confident” the Sinopharm vaccine protects people aged 18 to 59, citing evidence from clinical trials in China, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The vaccine had a 79 percent efficacy in stopping symptomatic Covid-19 with adults aged between 18 and 59 years, the report found — lower than some high-performing US-backed vaccines like those produced by Pfizer and Moderna, both in the mid-90s, but in the same range as AstraZeneca, another Western vaccine.

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