SEOUL — One of China's coronavirus vaccines has been approved for general use by a government for the first time, with the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday endorsing a vaccine made by Sinopharm after reviewing the drugmaker's assessment that the shot was 86 percent effective.
Sinopharm’s efficacy rate puts the company’s vaccine behind Moderna’s 94.5 percent and Pfizer-BioNTech’s 95 percent but ahead of AstraZeneca’s 70 percent. However, data from the Phase 3 trial has not yet been released, with UAE officials giving only a few headline numbers. Sinopharm did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Phase 3 trial data has been released about the vaccine candidates from U.S.-based biotech company Moderna, which is partnering with the National Institutes of Health; U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner, biotech firm BioNTech; and British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford.
The Chinese vaccine is one of two developed by Sinopharm that have been granted emergency-use status within China for preventing infection of the coronavirus that causes covid-19.
Already, Sinopharm’s coronavirus vaccines are probably the most widely used around the world. The company’s chairman told Chinese media last month that nearly 1 million people had received doses, including Chinese nationals working abroad. China has come under criticism for rolling out the vaccines so widely before clinical trials were complete. Sinopharm said in late November it had applied for final approval with Chinese regulators.
The UAE’s Health Ministry announced Wednesday that it had registered a Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine for general use, following emergency-use approval in the country in September. A number of top UAE officials have gotten a shot.
UAE health officials said they reviewed the company’s interim analysis of the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial results that gave it an 86 percent efficacy rate.
“The analysis shows no serious safety concerns,” the UAE Ministry of Health said, adding that the findings showed the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing moderate and severe cases of covid-19.
The UAE approval sets the stage for the Sinopharm vaccine to be used widely in the developing world. Unlike the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which require super-cold storage, Sinopharm’s vaccines can be stored in regular refrigerators, making them a more attractive option for some developing nations. Morocco has ordered 10 million doses of Sinopharm vaccines.
The company’s vaccines remain in Phase 3 testing in Egypt, Bahrain, Peru and Argentina.
A second Chinese company, Sinovac, also has a coronavirus vaccine in late-stage trials in Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey.
Starting in September, the Sinopharm vaccine was used to inoculate UAE health workers deemed most at risk of infection. Phase 3 trials for the vaccine have been conducted in several countries, including the UAE, where 31,000 people across 125 nationalities took part.
The state news agency described the registration of the vaccine as “a significant vote of confidence by the UAE’s health authorities in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine.”
The UAE has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases in recent months. The country went from reporting just a few hundred new infections a day in August to more than 1,200 a day by November. There have been over 180,000 registered cases since the pandemic began but fewer than 600 reported deaths.
Sinopharm officials have made bold claims about the vaccine’s performance in the past few months. The company’s chairman, Liu Jingzhen, said at a conference in November that out of 56,000 people who received a Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine before traveling overseas, none became infected.
He said 81 of the 99 employees in Huawei’s Mexico office were vaccinated and did not contract the coronavirus, while 10 of the unvaccinated employees became infected.
Schemm reported from Dubai.
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