An experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm has 86% efficacy, the United Arab Emirates Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
The Health Ministry said the results for the vaccine were based on interim analysis of the late-stage clinical trials which the UAE started in July, according to the statement which was carried by the state news agency.
Though few details were provided, the statement marks the first publicly released information regarding the performance of the Chinese vaccine, developed by the China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of Sinopharm. The UAE approved emergency use for frontline workers in September.
“The analysis shows no serious safety concerns,” the statement said, though it did not make clear whether individual participants suffered any specific side effects, or how many volunteers were given the vaccine or a placebo.
The statement added that the “official registration” of the Covid-19 vaccine is “a major step towards combating the global pandemic.” The statement did not elaborate on what official registration would entail.
The clinical trials included 31,000 volunteers across 125 nationalities in the UAE, the statement said. So far, almost 100,000 people across the Emirates have also received the vaccine as part of a voluntary program, Jamal Al Kaabi, a top UAE health official told CNN.
UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was pictured receiving the jab during trials in November.
CNN has reached out to Sinopharm for more details.
China currently has five coronavirus candidates from four companies which have reached phase 3 clinical trials, the last and most important step of testing before regulatory approval is sought.
Having largely eliminated the spread of coronavirus inside its borders, Chinese drugmakers had to look abroad for places to test the efficacy of their vaccines. Together, they have rolled out phase 3 trials in at least 16 countries.
In exchange, many of the host countries have been promised early access to the successful vaccines – and in some cases, the technology know-how to manufacture them locally.
The UAE company in partnership with Sinopharm has previously said it hopes to produce between 75 and 100 million doses next year.
In November, Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen said that dozens of countries had requested to buy the company’s vaccines. He did not name the countries or elaborate on the amount of doses they proposed, but he said CNBG was capable of producing more than one billion doses in 2021.
“China not only has the political will (for its vaccine diplomacy), it also has the robust capacity to make that happen,” Huang said.
Compared with Pfizer and Moderna, most Chinese vaccines do not require freezing temperatures for storage, making transport and distribution much easier, especially in developing countries that lack cold storage capacities.
The Pfizer vaccine has received approval for use in the United Kingdom, which began vaccinating people this week, while the Moderna jab is still in final stage trials in multiple countries.
Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines use pieces of genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA) to prompt the body to make synthetic pieces of the coronavirus and stimulate an immune response – a new technology that has not been used in existing vaccines.
But mRNA is vulnerable to degradation at room temperature. Moderna’s vaccine has to be stored at -20 degree Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), or at refrigerator temperatures for up to 30 days, while the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at an ultra-cold temperature of -75˚C (-103˚F), and used within five days once refrigerated at higher temperatures.
Sinopharm, meanwhile, uses a longstanding approach that has proven effective in other vaccines, such as polio and flu shots. Their coronavirus vaccines employ an inactivated whole virus to prompt the body to develop immunity, and only need to be stored at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2˚C to 8˚C (36˚F to 46˚F). Other Chinese vaccines in production can be kept at similar temperatures.
Reporting contributed by CNN’s Beijing bureau and Nectar Gan in Hong Kong.