The Chinese-developed coronavirus vaccine, Sinovac, has been approved for use in South Africa and the first order has been placed. The vaccine is the first Chinese vaccine to receive approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
South Africa is currently in the throes of its third wave, with the total national death toll surpassing 60 000 in late June and hospitals in the economic capital, Gauteng, full to capacity.
Describing the news as a relief and a “turning point”, the acting health minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, welcomed SAHPRA’s decision, thanking them for their sense of urgency on the matter, saying that the vaccine’s approval coincides with the government’s expansion of its vaccination programme.
The South African government recently expanded its vaccine eligibility to citizens above 50 years of age. Currently only 5% of South Africa’s 60 million citizens have been vaccinated. Nearly two million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, but experts believe the number may be significantly higher, especially in rural areas where access to testing is low or even non-existent.
The vaccine made by Sinova’s Life Sciences unit was declared fit for use for those aged 18-59 and will join the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech jabs as the predominant vaccines in circulation.
South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been attempting – with no success – to convince drug manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to temporarily waiver the IP rights on the life-saving medication. Opposition parties have urged Ramaphosa to expand vaccine options to include Chinese and Russian candidates.
SAHPRA CEO, Boitumelo Semete-Makokotele, said the nation’s primary health regulator was working towards authorizing the Russian-developed Sputnik vaccine and another Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm.
After limited initial data, the Sinovac vaccine has emerged as an effective weapon against the coronavirus. The jab can be kept at standard refrigeration temperatures and has a shelf life of nearly two years.
The two-dose vaccine is currently being circulated in Uruguay where data released by government officials show an efficacy rate of 90% in the reduction of hospitalisation and death, according to Reuters.
A statement made by the Chinese embassy in South Africa confirmed that an order for around two and a half million shots of Sinovac had been placed.