WHO grants emergency approval to second Chinese COVID-19 vaccine

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London: The World Health Organisation has approved the Sinovac Biotech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, only the second time a non-Western and Chinese vaccine has been given the green light to fight COVID-19.

Last month the WHO approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use. Early on Wednesday morning, it validated the Sinovac vaccine, meaning it can be distributed through the COVAX facility to the developing world.

A health worker prepares to administer a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok last week.Credit:Bloomberg

The WHO said Sinovac, branded CoronaVac in some regions, should be given in two doses, separated by two to four weeks, to all adults. The WHO said the vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 51 per cent of those vaccinated – the lowest efficacy recorded of all vaccines approved so far. But it found the shot prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100 per cent of the studied population.

Real-world data is showing it may be far more effective. Indonesia said a study of 120,000 healthcare workers given the vaccine showed it was 94 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic disease, 96 per cent against hospitalisation and 98 per cent against death.

Sinovac uses the same innactivated vaccine technology as Chinese rival Sinopharm – which is the same technology behind the Polio vaccine.

“The easy storage requirements of CoronaVac make it very suitable for low-resource settings,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva.

“It’s now the eighth vaccine to receive emergency use listing by WHO.”

China’s two vaccines join Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen, Moderna and three versions of the AstraZeneca vaccine marketed in South Korea, India and Europe to be approved by the WHO for emergency use.

But many countries, including hard-hit nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia, have already begun inoculating patients without waiting for WHO approval. Sinovac said that it had supplied more than 600 million doses of its vaccine at home and abroad as of the end of May, and more than 430 million doses have been administered.

The approval came as governments around the world, including Australia, were urged to contribute to a new $US50 billion ($64 billion) roadmap to fight the pandemic globally, instead of nationally.

Leaders from the the WHO, World Bank Group, World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) held a rare joint press conference to issue the plea as they set a new target for 60 per cent of the world’s population to be vaccinated within 12 months.

“By now it has become abundantly clear there will be no broad-based recovery without an end to the health crisis. Access to vaccination is key to both,” the leaders of the four organisations said.

The WTO’s new Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the pandemic had shown rich countries were perfectly willing to spend unprecedented sums to stem the virus and cushion the public from the economic impacts of restrictions.

“We’ve been shown that there are trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk, so pick them up, we just need to invest $50 billion upfront,” she said.

The IMF’s Kristalina Georgieva said a two-track pandemic was “causing a two-track economic recovery with negative consequences for all countries”.

Dr Tedros said: “They say where there is a will, there is a way. We know the way, the question is, do we have the will?”

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