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China drugmaker says its coronavirus vaccine is 79.3% effective in final tests

A Chinese drugmaker said Wednesday its coronavirus vaccine was found to be 79.3% effective at preventing infection in preliminary data from the final round of testing, moving Beijing closer to possibly being able to fulfill its pledge to supply other developing countries.

Sinopharm’s data release is the first official announcement of late-stage trial data from a Chinese company on its vaccine candidates.

Its effectiveness rate is behind Moderna’s vaccine, which was more than 94% effective, and Pfizer’s, which is 95% effective. Scientists have cautioned that COVID-19 vaccines may only be about as effective as the flu vaccine, which generally is 50% effective.

However, the final proof of the vaccine’s effectiveness will depend on publication of scientific data, as the company’s disclosure did not provide additional information.

State-owned Sinopharm is one of at least five Chinese developers that are part of a global race to create vaccines for the disease that has killed 1.8 million people.

More than 1 million health care workers and others in China have received either Sinopharm or another company Sinovac’s vaccines under emergency approval while testing was underway.

Also Wednesday, Sinovac Biotech Ltd., signed an agreement to build a production facility in Beijing for a coronavirus vaccine with planned annual capacity of 1 billion doses, the newspaper Beijing Youth News reported.

Sinopharm, or China National Pharmaceutical Group, has applied for approval of its vaccine following the third and final stage of testing, a unit of the company, Beijing Biological Products Institute Ltd., said on its website.

It would be the second vaccine from a Sinopharm unit, following a separate candidate developed by the company’s Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Ltd.

The Beijing Institute’s vaccine has been approved by regulatory authorities in the United Arab Emirates. Authorities in the UAE previously said the vaccine was 86% effective.

The Sinopharm vaccine relies on two doses, the company said, similar to Western-developed vaccines.

The two-sentence announcement gave no information about side effects, conditions required to transport and use the vaccine, or other details.

Western-developed vaccines must be kept frozen at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit). Chinese developers have said theirs can be stored at 2 to 8 C (36 to 46 F).

While the vaccines are not yet available to the general population, China is in the middle of a huge push to distribute its vaccines to 50 million people in an emergency use program before the Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions will travel to be reunited with their families.

A former Shanghai CDC immunologist and medical professional Tao Lina, said he got the first dose of Beijing Institute’s vaccine on Saturday under the emergency use program.

He had “absolutely no adverse reactions, not even a localized reaction,” he said.

Chinese producers have at least six possible vaccines in the final stage of clinical trials.

They are testing vaccines in more than a dozen countries, including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.

Few details have been released, leaving experts abroad wondering about effectiveness and side effects.

Western companies are distributing newly distributed coronavirus vaccines, but some health experts express concern too little will be available to poorer countries. China’s government says it will ensure Chinese-developed vaccines are affordable for developing countries and has been actively pursuing distribution deals abroad.

Health experts say even if they are successful, the certification process for the United States, Europe, Japan and other developed countries might be too complex for Chinese vaccines to be used there.

Source: AP – Joe McDonald, Huizhong Wu via TOI