WHO Just Approved China's Covid-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use

This could help save countries falling behind on vaccine rollouts.
Brad Bergan
A vaccine being extracted with a syringe.Chalffy / iStock

The World Health Organization (WHO) just granted emergency use approval for China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine — opening the door for an increased flow of coronavirus vaccines to nations of fewer means to acquire the needed shots and help bring an end to the pandemic, according to an initial report from the New York Times.

And it could save countless lives in poorer countries, which lack the resources of countries like China, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and others.

Poorer nations in dire need of equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution

In granting China's Sinopharm emergency use authorization, the vaccine can be included in Covax — which is the WHO's global initiative that aims to realize equitable vaccine distribution worldwide. Several well-off countries aren't sharing as many vaccines as they otherwise might. India is a major developer of vaccines, but has halted exports to better confront its exacerbated coronavirus crisis. Additionally, concerns surrounding the safety of using the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — in light of extremely rare but dangerous side effects observed in some countries — and this has led to temporary halts of both vaccines pending additional guidance.

The WHO is also slated to consider emergency use approval for another vaccine from China — developed by a company called Sinovac. A global data analyst named Andrea Taylor at the Duke Global Health Institute said of the possible benefits of throwing two extra vaccines from China into the Covax program is a "game changer," according to the NYTimes report.

"The situation right now is just so desperate for low- and lower-middle-income countries that any doses we can get out are worth mobilizing," said Taylor. "Having potentially two options coming from China could really change the landscape of what's possible over the next few months."

China vaccine's effectiveness against coronavirus variants unknown

China is very serious about its vaccine diplomacy efforts. Filling an equity gap left by Western countries and pharmaceutical companies in low- and middle-income countries, China is quickly becoming a go-to source of much-needed vaccine relief for poorer nations around the world. Sinipharm is the first jab from China categorized as both safe and effective by the WHO, and the agency's approval could relax concerns that grew in 2020 regarding the transparency of China's pharmaceutical industrial complex.

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In recent months, regulators from China and other countries approved Sinopharm's vaccine — but the pharmaceutical firm has yet to release Phase 3 clinical data for scientists to analyze independently. Earlier, the WHO acquired access to the data on China's vaccine, but predictions are mixed on how well it will do against the multiplying number of coronavirus variants sweeping the world.

Early last month, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine showed effectiveness against the South African variant. "The vaccine was 100 percent effective against the severe disease as defined by [the CDC], and 95.3% effective against severe COVID-19 as defined by [the FDA]," said Pfizer and BioNTech in a statement. But the Pfizer vaccine may not be quite as effective against another variant called B.1.351 — according to a small but accurate sample study. It remains to be seen how Sinopharm's shot will fare against the evolving virus.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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