The leading public health authority, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has officially approved the Chinese-developed Sinovac Biotech Covid vaccine.
The vaccine, which has seen use in more than 30 countries, received the WHO’s emergency use status last Tuesday. This means it can now be considered by COVAX, the global body tasked with ensuring fair and equitable vaccine distribution, for widespread use. Gaining the WHO seal of approval also allows nations to “expedite their own regulatory approval”, according to a WHO representative.
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, welcomed the Sinovac vaccine’s recognition by WHO, saying that it would be a “crucial step” for his own country’s public health regulator’s decision on the Sinovac candidate.
In March, President Ramaphosa said his government was in advanced discussions with Sinovac and that approval from the South African Health Products Association (SAHPRA) was imminent.
Ramaphosa highlighted the significance of having multiple vaccines at South Africa’s disposal during its rollout. To date, South Africa has only administered a million doses, half of those to vital healthcare and frontline workers, according to Business Insider.
SAHPRA, which has been reviewing the Sinovac candidate since March, remained tight-lipped. In fact, only the Johnson & Johnson and the Pfizer Biontech vaccines have received the green light from SAHPRA so far.
In January 2021, the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout was abruptly halted and subsequently scrapped by the South African government after it was found the prevalent 501Y.V2, or Beta variant, was significantly resistant to the drug.
The Sinovac Covid vaccine has an efficacy rate of 51% in preventing symptomatic disease, while data indicates that it prevented hospitalisation in 100% of the observed group, according to WHO.
The global Covid authority also noted the Sinovac candidate’s ease of storage; Sinovac says its vaccine can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures and does not need the more frigid refrigeration required by some of its counterparts.
A recent study by the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil suggests that the Sinovac vaccine may be far more efficacious than previously thought. The small Brazilian town of Serrana was given the Sinovac shot and saw Covid-related deaths fall by 95%, while symptomatic cases and hospitalisations saw an 86% and 80% drop, respectively.
Of the town, 75% received doses, with 95% of adults in the population of 45 000 receiving both doses. Notably, no adverse side-effects were observed among participants.
To date, SAHPRA has not commented whether it will follow WHO’s example and give the Sinovac vaccine the all-clear.