China OKs 1st homegrown vaccine

China approves its first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine for general use, health regulators say, marking the addition of another vaccine in the global fight against a virus that is surging back in many places as winter sets in.

The two-dose vaccine from state-owned Sinopharm is the first approved for general use in China. The go-ahead comes shortly after the country launched a program to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February. It also comes one day after British regulators authorized AstraZeneca’s inexpensive and easy-to-handle vaccine.

The back-to-back approvals could bring poorer countries, many of which have been unable to secure the Pfizer and Moderna doses being snapped up by rich countries, one step closer to getting vaccines sooner. Pakistan’s science minister says that his government will buy 1.2 million doses of a Sinopharm vaccine, two days after its death toll topped 10,000.

A staff member inspects syringes of COVID-19 inactivated vaccine products at a packaging plant of the Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., Ltd, a unit of state-owned Sinopharm in Beijing, December 25, 2020. (Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via AP)

Technically, China granted conditional approval for the vaccine, which means that research is still ongoing, and the company will be required to submit follow-up data as well as reports of any adverse effects after the vaccine is sold on the market, Chen Shifei, the deputy commissioner of the National Medical Products Administration, tells a news conference.

The vaccine was developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm. The company announced Wednesday that preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown it to be 79.3% effective.

It is an inactivated vaccine, which means the virus was grown in a lab and then killed. The germ is then injected into the body to generate an immune response.

Final proof of its effectiveness will depend on publication of more data. Experts have said important data was missing from Wednesday’s announcement, such as the size of the control group, how many people were vaccinated and at what point the 79.3% efficacy rate was reached after injection.