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WHO approves emergency use for Chinese COVID vaccine

May 7, 2021

It is the first time the World Health Organization has given the green light to a Chinese-made vaccine. The Sinopharm jab is the sixth vaccine to receive approval from the global health body.

Vials of Sinopharm vaccine
China has offered its vaccines to a number of countries around the world, the Sinopharm jab is the first to gain WHO approvalImage: Martin Mejia/AP Photo/picture alliance

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced Friday that the body had authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine made by China's Sinopharm

It is the first non-Western vaccine to gain WHO emergency use approval.

"This afternoon, WHO gave 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," Ghebreysus said.

The WHO had already given such approval to vaccines developed by BioNTech-Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

What the Sinopharm approval means for COVAX

The WHO listing means the Sinopharm vaccine could eventually be included into the COVAX initiative in the coming weeks or months.

The UN-backed scheme aims to provide vaccines to poorer countries.

"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."

The jab would then be distributed via UNICEF and the WHO's regional office in the Americas.

To date, Sinopharm has made very little data public, only publishing what it says are efficacy numbers for its two vaccine shots — one developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the other by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.

Questions remain over Chinese data

A document reviewed by Reuters news agency, however, showed that the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, or SAGE, a separate group of WHO experts, voiced concern this week over Sinopharm data on the risk of serious side-effects in some patients after receiving the vaccine but said it was confident in the vaccine's ability to prevent disease.

Thus far, China has distributed some 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and more than 200 million doses of the Sinovac jab — mainly to countries that have had difficulty securing supplies of vaccines developed in the West, particularly in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

What's next for Chinese vaccines?

WHO officials have said they could also reach a decision on China's other main COVID-19 vaccine —  which is made by Sinovac Biotech and was reviewed by WHO experts on Wednesday — as early as next week.

js/rt (AP, Reuters)