The Egyptian government this week said it will start vaccinating medical workers against the novel coronavirus disease mainly using a vaccine from a Chinese pharmaceutical company, of which up to 10 million doses are expected to be provided.
China’s National Biotec Group, part of a state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm, offers two vaccines that provide solutions to countries in need of protection against Covid-19.
The company states that the jab is 79% effective but a lack of transparency over data from late-stage trials and regulatory approval has raised concerns.
Sinopharm and its Emirati partner G42 said 45,000 people participated in phase-3 trials for efficiency and safety, although they are yet to release the data.
International experts have questioned whether global standards are being met in the development of Chinese vaccines.
One of two Covid-19 vaccines under development by Sinopharm received approval in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates this month. Emirati officials said the vaccine has an 86% efficacy rate, contrasting with the Sinopharm figure.
Egypt is pushing ahead in spite of the lack of clarity, in a bid to secure its population after recording more than 137,000 coronavirus infections with 7,500+ deaths, which is one of the highest tallies in Africa.
“It’s now a trade-off between the risk of the virus, especially with the current surge in cases, and the risk of an untrusted vaccine with not enough supporting data at all,” an anonymous doctor told UK-based The Guardian.
Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have struggled to purchase vaccines from western companies including Moderna, BioNTech-Pfizer, and Oxford-AstraZeneca, and are turning to Chinese pharmaceutical groups.
In addition to the UAE and Bahrain, Sinopharm’s vaccines are expected to be part of national rollouts in Egypt and Morocco.
Cairo also intends to mass-produce the Chinese vaccine in Africa, while Sinopharm is working on building a manufacturing plant in Morocco next year.
One of the advantages of the jab is that it can be stored at the standard 2C-8C temperature, compared to the newer mRNA vaccine technology used by Pfizer and Moderna, which requires ultra-cold storage chains.
Ameenah Hassan is an intern at Arbiterz.