WHO approves emergency use of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China

The World Health Organization (WHO) approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinopharm.

The decision came by a WHO technical advisory group, a first for a Chinese vaccine, opens the possibility that Sinopharm’s offering could be included in the United Nations-backed COVAX programme in coming weeks or months, and distributed through United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and WHO’s Americas regional office.

“WHO gave an emergency use listing to sign off on Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhahom Ghebreyesus said.

The Sinopharm vaccine will join ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, in receiving the coveted authorisation from the UN health agency.

“This expands the list of vaccines that COVAX can buy and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval and to import and administer a vaccine,” Tedros said at a Geneva news conference.

Chinese manufacturers have released very little data about their vaccines publicly.

A group advising WHO on vaccines said it was “very confident” the Sinopharm vaccine protects people aged 18-59. However, it had a “low level of confidence” in the vaccine’s efficacy for people 60 and over.

Sinopharm has not published its late-stage test results in scientific journals, so the WHO requested a breakdown of its data, which come mostly from the United Arab Emirates.

A summary posted online by WHO suggests the vaccine is about 78 percent effective.

The WHO has said it could reach a decision on China’s other main COVID-19 vaccine, made by Sinovac Biotech, next week. China has deployed around 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and more than 200 million doses of the Sinovac shot.

Both have been exported to many countries, particularly in Latin America, Asia and Africa, many of which have had difficulty securing supplies of vaccines developed in the West.