Sinopharm vaccine: The lowdown

Source: Sinopharm vaccine: The lowdown | The Sunday Mail

Sinopharm vaccine: The lowdown

Sunday Mail Reporter

ZIMBABWE takes delivery of the first consignment of the Covid-19 vaccine when a shipment of 200 000 doses from China’s pharmaceutical company Sinopharm arrives tomorrow morning.

The country will join a long list of countries that are deploying the vaccine to immunise their populations against the deadly respiratory disease.

An additional 600 000 vaccines are expected in the country next month.

Frontline health workers, ports of entry officials and funeral parlour workers will be among the first to be vaccinated, according to Government’s rollout plan.

Immunisation of the chronically ill, the elderly, prisoners and those living in refugee camps will follow immediately after.

Why Sinopharm

The Sinopharm vaccine was among the first vaccine candidates to progress through the World Health Organisation approval process last year.

It has been rigorously tested in 125 countries.

Sinopharm announced on December 30 that phase three trials of the vaccine showed that it was 79 percent effective.

However, the United Arab Emirates, which approved a Sinopharm vaccine last month, said the vaccine was 86 percent effective. Over a million people have received the Sinopharm vaccine in China and there have been no reports of adverse side effects.

How it works

The vaccine was developed by scientists at Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise.

The vaccine follows the tried-and-tested route of training the body’s immune system to detect and destroy viruses using injections of deactivated virus.

For the Covid-19, researchers used a compound which stops the virus from replicating, but still allow it to trigger a response from the immune system.

The deactivated virus method has been safely used for decades to create vaccines against viruses ranging from influenza and polio to rabies.

How is it given?

By injection into a muscle — usually in the upper arm.

Because the virus has been deactivated, the body’s response is relatively weak, so two injections are needed over 28 days.

How do we know it’s

safe and effective?

In April, Chinese officials approved small trials in volunteers to check if the vaccine triggered an immune response without serious side effects.

The results — published in the respected global medical journal, The Lancet — led to approval for a far larger “Phase III” study in collaboration with the UAE.

Since September, 31 000 volunteers from 125 nations in the age-range 18 to 60 have been given the vaccine.

According to the UAE health ministry, the vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing Covid-19, and 100 percent effective in preventing moderate or severe cases of the disease.

On December 30, Sinopharm announced that phase three trials of the vaccine showed that it was 79 percent effective.

The results also showed that the vaccine successfully triggered an immune system response in 99 percent of patients — but without any serious side effects. Further studies are continuing in the UAE and elsewhere, including Jordan, Brazil, Morocco and Serbia.

Was it tested in China?

Ironically, because of China’s success in combating the virus through the rapid introduction of lockdowns, this has led to rates of infection dropping so low it is hard to test whether a vaccine protects against Covid-19.

Even so, in July Chinese officials authorised the emergency use of the vaccine, which has now been given to almost one million people.

Does it work

against new variants?

Inactivated vaccines are more effective against fighting new mutated strains of the coronavirus, studies have shown.

Such vaccines, including the one from Sinopharm, use a “dead” version of the whole virus, offering protection against multiple areas.

That means they may hold up better against variants.

Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), said because inactivated vaccines are based on the whole virus, the immune system will have “lots of weapons against lots of parts of the vaccine”.

Covid-19 variants which have emerged in recent months in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil include a number of mutations in the spike, which experts said may render the vaccines less effective.

“The other vaccines are just against the spike protein so if that mutates and escapes the immune system, the vaccines may not work as well,” said Prof O’Neill.

“The whole virus vaccines are very likely to work against any variant.” — Additional reporting from online sources.