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China Approves Its First COVID-19 Vaccine for General Use

FILE PHOTO -- A visitor wearing a face mask takes a photo of a model of a coronavirus and boxes for COVID-19 vaccines at a display by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China Approves Its First COVID-19 Vaccine for General Use
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China has approved its first COVID-19 vaccine for general public use.

The vaccine was developed by state-owned company Sinopharm. The shots had already been approved for emergency use for groups such as health care professionals and essential workers. But the approval for the general public came on New Year’s Eve.

China has launched a program with an aim of vaccinating 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February.

The approval of the Sinopharm vaccine will permit China to build up large supplies at home. It also moves the country closer to being able to ship the vaccine to other countries.

China’s approval came one day after Britain approved a vaccine developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca. The AstraZeneca vaccine is less costly and easier to store and use than shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The AstraZeneca and Sinopharm shots have been closely watched by developing countries. Many of those countries have not been able to secure the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they are being sent mainly to rich nations.

Pakistan’s science minister said his government planned to buy 1.2 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, two days after the country’s COVID-19 death total reached 10,000.

China’s approval of the Sinopharm vaccine came the day after the company announced that early data from late-stage trials had shown the shots to be 79.3 percent effective. However, the announcement did not identify the size of the control group, how many people were vaccinated or at what point the effective rate was reached after the vaccine was given. Health experts have called for more data on the trials to be shared.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines performed in trials with success rates higher than 90 percent.

Technically, China gave conditional approval to the Sinopharm vaccine, meaning that research and trials are still going on. An official from China’s National Medical Products Administration told reporters the company will be required to prepare follow-up data and reports of any adverse effects after the vaccine is sold on the market.

Sinopharm, which is also working on another shot, is one of at least five Chinese developers involved in a worldwide race to create vaccines for COVID-19. While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots have been welcomed in the West, those shots are more temperature sensitive and require extremely cold storage.

The Sinopharm vaccine, like the AstraZeneca one, could be easier for countries around the world to handle since they can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures. Both shots, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V, are expected to supply much of the developing world. That means the cost will also be important.

AstraZeneca is expected to cost about $2.50 a dose, while Russia has said its will be priced at $10 for the worldwide market. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine costs about $20 a dose, while Moderna’s is $15 to $25, based on agreements with the U.S. government.

Chinese officials have not yet named a price for its Sinopharm vaccine and have given conflicting statements about it. One official said it would be affordable for the Chinese public, but another suggested it would be free. President Xi Jinping has promised to donate a Chinese-made vaccine as a public good to the world.

The Sinopharm shot is already under mass production, but officials have not yet named its current capacity. The vaccine has already been approved in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and is also set to be used in Morocco.

Other countries have also been buying doses of another Chinese vaccine candidate, made by Sinovac Biotech. Turkey recently received shipments of 3 million doses of that vaccine, and Indonesia and Brazil have also bought supplies.

Belarus and Argentina both recently launched mass vaccination campaigns using the Russian-developed Sputnik V shots.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

essential – adj. very important and necessary

dose – n. the amount of a medicine or vaccine that is needed to be effective against disease

adverse – adj. having a negative or harmful effect on something

refrigerator – n. a device or room that is used to keep things cold

affordable – adj. not costly

capacity – n. the total amount of something that can be contained or produced