WHO lists Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

The World Health Organization (WHO) today approved emergency listing for China’s Sinopharm vaccine, a step that clears the way for a sixth vaccine to be added to the COVAX program.

In other global developments, India’s daily deaths today topped 4,000 for the first time, as the country reported more than 400,000 new cases for the third day in a row.

Decision follows review by 2 WHO groups

Today’s announcement caps the review of Sinopharm’s inactivated vero cell virus vaccine by two WHO vaccine advisory groups. The WHO’s technical advisory group (TAG) approved the vaccine for emergency listing. Meanwhile, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) recommended the vaccine for people 18 years of age and older on a two-dose schedule given 3 to 4 weeks apart. WHO advisors are also reviewing a second vaccine from China, one made by Sinovac.

The vaccine from state-owned Sinopharm had an efficacy rate of 79% in clinical trials.

In a statement, Mariangela Simao, MD, MSc, the WHO’s assistant director general for access to health products, urged Sinopharm to participate in COVAX, a program designed to speed distribution and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccine.

The WHO said the vaccine has easy storage requirements that make it well suited to low-resource settings and is the first to have a vaccine vial monitor that changes color when the vaccine is exposed to heat.

At a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said vaccines are a vital tool, but the current volume and distribution isn’t enough to end the pandemic without the sustained and tailored public health measures that have been shown to work.

Tedros today praised recent country support for intellectual property waivers for COVID-19 vaccines, and he also emphasized the incredible contributions of the private sector in quickly bringing vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics to the fight against COVID.

He added that nearly 100,000 people are dying every week, against the backdrop of vaccine shortages. “The World Trade Organization provisions for IP waivers were designed precisely for a situation like this,” Tedros said. “If we don’t use them now, then when?”

Tedros urged countries to support technology transfer and offer incentives to manufacturers. However, he said the fastest and most equitable way to increase distribution is for countries with the most vaccines to donate doses to COVAX.

India’s daily deaths top 4,000 for time

India saw no let-up in its massive COVID surge, the worst of the pandemic so far and unfolding in the world’s second most populous country. In another grim development, some crematoriums are running out of firewood for funeral pyres, according to CNN.

Today, the country reported another daily record for deaths, 4,197, along with 401,271 new cases, according to the health ministry. The United States and Brazil are the only other countries that have reported more than 4,000 deaths in a single day.

The parts of India with the highest test positivity rates are Goa and Delhi states, as well as Lakshwadeep, a union territory and island archipelago in the country’s far southwest, according to a CNN analysis. Test positivity is 1 per 1,000 people per day, ten times the global average.

A virologist from the state of Tamil Nadu told the New York Times that states that recently had elections and large campaign rallies are seeing steep rises in cases.

In a related development, Public Health England today said it has reclassified B1617.2, a version of the variant first seen in India, as a variant of concern, and current evidence suggest it as at least as transmissible at the B117 variant first detected in the UK.

At today’s WHO briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the group’s technical lead for COVID, said the variant has characteristics that are associated with increased transmission and that a WHO working group is currently reviewing more detailed information from India and other countries where B1617 is circulated.

WHO officials emphasized today that the variants are only one factor in recent surges, including in India, and pointed out that social mixing and relaxed restrictions are also playing key roles in virus spread. Mike Ryan, MD, who leads the WHO’s health emergencies program said, “It’s everything—not just the variants. Some countries really need to take a look in the mirror.”

More global headlines

  • Africa’s vaccination levels are falling behind, partly due to delays in COVAX vaccine coming from India’s Serum Institute, WHO African regional office director Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, said yesterday in a briefing. However, a few countries on the continent have been slow to rollout their doses, she said, emphasizing that the vaccine relays raise the threat of a new wave of infections in Africa.
  • In vaccine developments, UK drug regulators said today in updated guidance that people under age 40 should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which has been linked to very rare blood clotting events. In its earlier advice, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization had said people under age 30 should be offered a different vaccine.
  • The global total today topped 156 million cases and is now at 156,305,852, along with 3,260,511 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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