The United Arab Emirates said a Chinese coronavirus vaccine tested in the federation of sheikhdoms has 86% efficacy, in a statement that provided few details but marked the first public release of information on the performance of the shot.
The announcement brought yet another contender into the worldwide race for a vaccine to end the pandemic, a scientific effort in which China and Russia are competing with western firms to develop an effective inoculation.
While questions remain about the shot by the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm, already at least one country outside China plans to roll it out in a mass-vaccination campaign. The UAE conducted a trial beginning in September of the Sinopharm vaccine involving 31,000 volunteers from 125 nations. Volunteers between 18 and 60 years old received two doses of the vaccine over 28 days.
The UAE’s health ministry announced the results via a statement on the state-run WAM news agency on Wednesday, saying they “have reviewed Sinopharm CNBG’s interim analysis of the phase III trials”.
“The analysis shows no serious safety concerns,” the statement said, without detailing whether any participant suffered side effects.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the announced results included only those taking part in the testing in the UAE or if they also included results from China and elsewhere. The statement described the vaccine as receiving “official registration” without elaborating on what that meant.
Emirati officials and Sinopharm did not respond to questions from the Associated Press. However, calls to SEHA, the Abu Dhabi health authority, included an option for individuals to schedule an appointment to receive a “Covid-19 vaccine”. The centre was swamped with calls after the announcement on the vaccine’s efficacy.
The Sinopharm vaccine has been approved for emergency use in a few countries and the company is still conducting late-stage clinical trials in 10 countries. Morocco is gearing up for an ambitious Covid-19 vaccination programme, aiming to vaccinate 80% of its adults in an operation starting this month that is relying initially on the Sinopharm vaccine.
Sinopharm’s shot relies on a tested technology, using a killed virus to deliver the vaccine, similar to how polio immunisations are made. Leading western competitors, such as the shot made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, use newer, less-proven technology to target the coronavirus’s spike protein using RNA. The UK has already begun vaccinating people with the Pfizer shot.
Top officials in the UAE, including Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, have publicly received the shots as part of the vaccine testing.
Already, Pfizer reports its shot as having 95% efficacy – measuring its performance in controlled conditions – while another RNA candidate from Moderna appears to have 94.5% efficacy. Results suggest a third vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is safe and has about 70% efficacy, but questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55.
In transport, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must remain at cold temperatures: -70C (-94F) and -20C respectively. The Sinopharm vaccine is believed to be able to travel at a temperature of 2-8C, a major draw for areas of the world where nearly 3 billion people live without stable electricity and refrigeration. In November, the Communist party secretary for Sinopharm said almost 1 million people in China had received its vaccine.