China’s Sinopharm vaccine 86% effective, say United Arab Emirates officials

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday a Chinese coronavirus vaccine tested in the federation of sheikdoms is 86 per cent effective, in a statement that provided few details but marked the first public release of information on the efficacy of the shot.

The announcement brought yet another shot into the worldwide race for a vaccine to end the pandemic, a scientific effort that has seen China and Russia compete with Western firms for an effective inoculation. While questions remain about the Sinopharm shot, already at least one country outside China plans to roll it out in a mass-vaccination campaign.

The U.A.E., home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, conducted a trial beginning in September of the vaccine by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm involving 31,000 volunteers from 125 nations. Volunteers between 18 and 60 years old received two doses of the vaccine over 28 days.

The U.A.E.’s Health and Prevention Ministry announced the results via a statement on the state-run WAM news agency, saying it has “reviewed Sinopharm CNBG’s interim analysis of the Phase III trials.”

“The analysis shows no serious safety concerns,” the statement said, without detailing whether any participant suffered side effects.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the announced results included only those taking part in the testing in the UAE or if they also include results from China and elsewhere. The statement described the vaccine as receiving “official registration” without elaborating on what that meant.

The Sinopharm vaccine has been approved for emergency use in a few countries and the company is still conducting late-stage clinical trials in 10 countries. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

Emirati officials and Sinopharm did not respond to questions from The Associated Press.

However, calls Wednesday to SEHA, the Abu Dhabi health authority, included an option for individuals to schedule an appointment to receive a “COVID-19 vaccine.” The centre was swamped with calls following the announcement on the vaccine’s efficacy.

The Sinopharm vaccine has been approved for emergency use in a few countries and the company is still conducting late-stage clinical trials in 10 countries. Morocco is gearing up for an ambitious COVID-19 vaccination program, aiming to vaccinate 80 per cent of its adults in an operation starting this month that’s relying initially on the Sinopharm vaccine.

Sinopharm’s shot relies on a tested technology, using a killed virus to deliver the vaccine, similar to how polio immunizations are made. Leading Western competitors, like the shot made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, use newer, less-proven technology to target the coronavirus’s spike protein using RNA. The United Kingdom already has begun vaccinating people with the Pfizer shot.

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Top officials in the UAE, including Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, have publicly received the shots as part of the vaccine testing.

2 vaccines need cold storage

Already, Pfizer reports its shot as being 95 per cent effective, while another RNA candidate from Moderna appears to be 94.5 per cent effective. Results suggest a third vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is safe and about 70 per cent effective, but questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55.

In transport, Pfizer says its vaccine must be stored in a freezer at 80 C to 60 C or in a thermal container at 90 C to 60 C. The Moderna vaccine must remain at a temperature of –20 C.

The Sinopharm vaccine is believed to be able to travel at a temperature of 2 C to 8 C, a major draw for areas of the world where nearly three billion people live without stable electricity and refrigeration. In November, the Communist Party secretary for Sinopharm said almost one million people in China had received its vaccine.

Since the pandemic began, the UAE has detected over 178,000 cases of the virus, with 160,000 recoveries and nearly 600 deaths. Its aggressive testing policy has seen over 17 million tests conducted in a country home to just over nine million people.

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