Chinese authorities have given conditional approval for general public use of a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm.
The move came a day after the firm said interim data showed its leading vaccine had a 79% efficacy rate in phase three trials, without providing more details, reports BBC.
Several Chinese-made vaccines at a late trial stage are already in use in China after being granted emergency licences.
The pandemic emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
It has since spread around the world, but China has managed to bring infection rates down to very low levels through strict anti-virus measures.
The search for the source of the coronavirus has led to tensions with the West. The US – among a number of other countries – raised questions about whether China was fully transparent when the virus first emerged there.
Thursday’s announcement concerning the vaccine made by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, or Sinopharm, is China’s first general approval of a homemade jab – and it is being seen as potentially a major step towards inoculating the world’s largest population.
The deputy commissioner of China’s National Medical Products Administration, Chen Shifei, announced the decision at a news conference in Beijing.
“After a series of strict reviews, verification, test and data analysis in accordance with the law and procedures, it is concluded that the known and potential benefits of Sinopharm’s new inactivated coronavirus vaccine are bigger than the known and potential risks, and it fully meets the pre-set requirements of conditional marketing standards,” he said.
Vice Minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin said approval would allow the government to “extend vaccination to high-risk groups, those susceptible to a severe viral infection… and the elderly”.
In July, China approved three different jabs for emergency use in key workers and other people at high risk. More than 4.5 million doses have so far been administered.
Beijing hopes to inoculate tens of millions more people by mid-February, the start of the Chinese New Year.
Sinopharm is also working on a second vaccine, and a number of other Chinese vaccines are in production. These include CoronaVac, made by the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.
China has vowed to share its vaccines with other, less-developed countries at a “fair price” so they are likely to end up being used by huge numbers of people around the world.
Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates became the first other country to roll the Sinopharm vaccine out to the public, saying it was 86% effective in a phase-three trials. Bahrain then followed suit, allowing adults to register online to receive the jab for free.
On Thursday, within hours of the Sinopharm vaccine being approved in China, Pakistan announced a 1.2 million dose purchase deal with the company.
Singapore has also signed advance purchase agreements with vaccine makers including Sinovac, as well as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Shipments of Sinovac have arrived in Indonesia and Sinovac is also known to have secured other deals with Turkey, Brazil and Chile.
Analysts point to China’s bid to win the vaccine diplomacy race, which has also reportedly seen China’s President Xi Jinping pledge to set aside $2bn (£1.5bn) for the African continent, while also offering Latin American and Caribbean countries a $1bn loan to buy vaccines. It’s unclear what the terms of such a deal might be.
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