China approved a Covid-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm on Thursday, its first approved shot for general public use as it braces for increased transmission risks over winter.
No detailed efficacy data of the vaccine has been publicly released but its developer, Beijing Biological Products Institute, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG), said on Wednesday its vaccine was 79.34 per cent effective in preventing people from developing the disease based on interim data.
The approval comes after the United Arab Emirates this month became the first country to roll out the vaccine to the public.
While China has been slower than several other countries in approving Covid-19 vaccines, it has been inoculating its citizens for months with three different shots still undergoing late-stage trials.
The vaccine will come as a relief to Chinese citizens, who woke to news that authorities have discovered the first case of the new coronavirus variant that was discovered in the UK this month.
The first patient in China with the new variant is a 23-year-old woman from Shanghai who arrived from Britain on December 14, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control said in a research note published Wednesday.
She was hospitalised on arrival as she showed mild symptoms. Health experts conducted a genetic sequencing of her test samples on December 24 “due to travel history from the UK and abnormalities in nucleic acid test results”,” the China CDC said.
The patient was found to have a strain different to those found in Shanghai or Wuhan earlier, and further testing confirmed it was the variant known as B.1.1.7 that has been spreading in the UK since October.
Health authorities have carried out contact-tracing, the CDC statement added.
China launched an emergency use programme in July aimed at essential workers and others at high risk of infection and as of the end of November, had administered 1.5 million doses using at least three different products – two developed by CNBG and one by Sinovac.
While the efficacy of the Sinopharm shot trails the more than 90 per cent success rate of rival vaccines from Pfizer Inc and its partner BioNTech and Moderna Inc, it points to progress China has made in the global race to develop successful COovid-19 vaccines.
The regulatory approval is a conditional, given to vaccines deemed urgently needed to cope with major public health emergencies even though complete clinical trials have yet to be completed, China’s National Medical Products Administration said on Thursday.
The approval came as Britain on Wednesday approved a second Covid-19 vaccine, a shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, as it battles a major winter surge driven by a new variant of the virus.