China’s COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech has finally been given an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization (WHO). The emergency use approval paves the way for a second Chinese shot to be used in poor countries.
A WHO emergency listing is a signal to national regulators of a product’s safety and efficacy and will allow the Sinovac shot to be included in COVAX, the global programme providing vaccines mainly for poor countries, which faces major supply problems due to curbs on Indian exports.
The WHO’s independent panel of experts said in a statement it recommended Sinovac’s vaccine for adults over 18. There was no upper age limit as data suggested it is likely to have a protective effect in older people.
The WHO’s technical advisory group, which began meeting on May 5, made the decision after reviewing the latest clinical data on the Sinovac vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as the company’s manufacturing practices.
WHO says its safe and effective
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the move, calling the vaccine safe and effective and noting its easy storage requirements make it suitable for low-income countries.
“It’s now crucial to get these lifesaving tools to the people that need them quickly,” he told a briefing.
Branded CoronaVac in some regions, it is the eighth vaccine to win such a WHO listing to combat COVID-19 and the second developed by a Chinese company, after the May 7 approval of a shot developed by state-backed Sinopharm.
While a third Chinese vaccine, produced by CanSino Biologics, has submitted clinical trial data, no WHO review has been scheduled.
Sinovac said that it had supplied more than 600 million doses of its vaccine at home and abroad as of end-May and over 430 million doses have been administered.
Sinovac distrusted in Thailand
However in Thailand widespread distrust of the Prayut government is aggravating Sinovac hesitancy in the country, says an analyst. Up to 6 million Sinovac doses from China have been delivered, making Sinovac the most widely deployed vaccine in Thailand.
However public trust in the Prayut government is low, and citizens lack confidence in the safety of the Sinovac vaccine obtained by the government. According to CNA the Sinovac vaccine has been subject to widespread criticism on a number of grounds.
Sinovac being Chinese has not helped its acceptance. China – in the eyes of many Thais – is viewed with suspicion and even hostility, and products from China are widely viewed as cheap and lacking quality.
Sinovac also faces politically motivated problems as Thailand under Prayut is widely perceived by critics of the Prayut government as beholden to China.
Conservative supporters of Prayut are labelled as identical to Chinese nationalists. Anti-China feelings, coupled with the Prayut government’s reliance on Sinovac and slow procurement of more reputed alternatives.
Despite their avowed opposition to Sinovac people have said that they have no choice but to get vaccinated with the “government-imposed” vaccine.