The World Health Organization on Friday approved China’s Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, easing the way for poorer nations to get access to another much-needed shot to help end the pandemic.
The approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in Covax, the World Health Organization’s global initiative that is designed to promote equitable vaccine distribution around the world.
The need is dire.
Rich countries are hoarding doses. India, a major vaccine maker, has stopped exports to address its worsening coronavirus crisis. Questions about safety after exceedingly rare side effects led some countries to briefly pause using AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses or change their guidance around the use.
Reliable vaccine access could improve further next week when the W.H.O. considers another Chinese shot, made by the company Sinovac.
Andrea Taylor, who analyzes global data on vaccines at the Duke Global Health Institute, called the potential addition of two Chinese vaccines into the Covax program a “game changer.”
“The situation right now is just so desperate for low- and lower-middle-income countries that any doses we can get out are worth mobilizing,” Ms. Taylor said. “Having potentially two options coming from China could really change the landscape of what’s possible over the next few months.”
But the fanfare may be short-lived. While China has claimed it can make up to 5 billion doses by the end of this year, Chinese officials say the country is struggling to manufacture enough doses for its own population and are cautioning a pandemic-weary world to keep expectations in check.
“This should be the golden time for China to practice its vaccine diplomacy. The problem is, at the same time, China itself is facing a shortage,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “So in terms of global access to vaccines, I don’t expect the situation to significantly improve in the coming two to three months.”
Still, the approval represents a high point in its vaccine diplomacy efforts and a chance to fill the gap left by Western nations and pharmaceutical companies in low- and middle-income countries. Sinopharm is the first Chinese shot to be classified as safe and effective by the W.H.O., and its approval could ease concerns about the lack of transparency from Chinese vaccine companies.
Regulators from China and other countries have approved the Sinopharm vaccine in recent months, though the company has not released Phase 3 clinical trial data for scientists to independently assess.
The W.H.O. was given access to this data before the announcement, but there is limited data on how well the vaccine will work against the many coronavirus variants cropping up around the world.
Developing countries racing for coronavirus vaccines now have another dependable option — and China’s reputation as a rising scientific superpower just got a big boost.
The World Health Organization on Fridaydeclared a vaccine made by a Chinese company, Sinopharm, as a safe and reliable way to fight the virus. The declaration marks a significant step toward clearing up doubts about the vaccine, after little late-phase clinical trial data was disclosed by the Chinese government and the company.
The W.H.O. emergency use approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in Covax, a global initiative to provide free vaccines to poor countries. The possible inclusion in Covax raises hopes that more people — especially those in developing nations — will get access to shots at a crucial moment.
Rich countries are hoarding doses of vaccines. India, a major vaccine maker, has stopped exports to address its worsening coronavirus crisis. Safety concerns led health authorities in some countries to temporarily pause the use of vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, in part because the government prioritized exports and residents did not feel rushed to get vaccinated. The country is now speeding up its national vaccination campaign and aims to inoculate 40 percent of its 1.4 billion people by the end of June.
published the data this week.
78.1 percent, according to the W.H.O. advisory group. The Sinovac vaccine has varying efficacy rates of between 50 percent to 84 percent, depending on the country where Phase 3 trials were conducted. Both vaccines were made using a tried-and-tested technology that involves weakening or killing a virus with chemicals.
The advisory group’s data showed that it had a “high level of confidence” that the Sinopharm vaccine worked in preventing Covid-19 in adults, but a “low level” of confidence for people over 60. The group’s findings were similar for the Sinovac vaccine.
The W.H.O. said that because Sinopharm enrolled few adults above 60 years old in its trials, the health agency could not estimate the vaccine efficacy for this group. But the W.H.O. said it would not restrict the use of the vaccine in that age group because preliminary data suggests “the vaccine is likely to have a protective effect in older persons.”
There is limited data on how well the vaccine will work against the many coronavirus variants cropping up around the world. Chinese vaccines are overall less effective than the inoculations produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
But for China’s leaders, the W.H.O. approval can still be seen as a badge of honor. Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has pledged to make a Covid-19 vaccine a “global public good.”
After India announced export restrictions on vaccines last month, Indonesia and the Philippines said they would turn to China for help. Last week, China’s foreign minister offered to help South Asian nations get access to vaccines.
Indonesia said it would get additional doses from Sinovac after President Joko Widodo held talks with Mr. Xi. In a speech the same week, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said he owed “a debt of gratitude” to China for its vaccines.
It remains to be seen whether the W.H.O. approval will change Beijing’s approach to doling out vaccines. China has given only 10 million doses to Covax, though it has independently donated 16.5 million doses and sold 691 million doses to 84 countries, according to Bridge Consulting. Many of the donations were made to developing nations in Africa and Asia.
“They don’t like to subsume their generosity in their products under some U.N. brand,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are in a historic phase,” he said. “They want the recipients to know that this is China delivering.”
Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting. Elsie Chen contributed reporting and research.
On Feb. 22, Mom texted that she and Dad had booked a March 11 appointment to get their first shots, followed by second doses in April. A day later, she reported that Dad hadn’t pressed the button to confirm the appointment on the online booking system and had lost the slots.
The next week, they texted again: They had walked to a private clinic that was dispensing Sinovac shots. After a short wait, they received the vaccine. On April 2, they told us that they had gotten their second dose of Sinovac and were feeling fine. Mom groused that even though they had an appointment, they “still need to wait for half an hour.”
Our responses were more enthusiastic.
“Great news,” I wrote.
“Yay!” Pui-Ying texted, followed by celebratory emojis.
“Congrats!” Pui Ling said.
Pui-Ying had moved with her family to Malawi in 2016 to work as a doctor and conduct clinical research on children’s health. Resources at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, where she works, were limited. When Madonna’s charity helped finance the construction of a new children’s wing at the hospital, which opened in 2017, it was big news.
Staffing was tight even before the coronavirus, Pui-Ying said. When the pandemic came, the hospital decided on a one-week-on, one-week-off routine to reduce staff exposure to Covid-19 while ensuring that enough medical professionals would be working at all times. Masks, gloves and other protective equipment were scarce.
In pediatrics, Pui-Ying and her colleagues set up a “respiratory zone” for children with Covid-19. It was essentially a two-room ward, with about a dozen beds in the main room. The second room, which was an isolation unit, had space for four children.
RIO DE JANEIRO — China was on the defensive in Brazil.
The Trump administration had been warning allies across the globe to shun Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, denouncing the company as a dangerous extension of China’s surveillance system.
Brazil, ready to build an ambitious 5G wireless network worth billions of dollars, openly took President Trump’s side, with the Brazilian president’s son — an influential member of Congress, himself — vowing in November to create a secure system “without Chinese espionage.”
Then pandemic politics upended everything.
With Covid-19 deaths rising to their highest levels yet, and a dangerous new virus variant stalking Brazil, the nation’s communications minister went to Beijing in February, met with Huawei executives at their headquarters and made a very unusual request of a telecommunication company.
“I took advantage of the trip to ask for vaccines, which is what everyone is clamoring for,” said the minister, Fábio Faria, recounting his meeting with Huawei.
hoarding many millions of doses for themselves — has offered a diplomatic and public relations opening that China has readily seized.
closely aligned with Mr. Trump, disparaged the Chinese vaccine while it was undergoing clinical trials in Brazil, and shut down an effort by the health ministry to order 45 million doses.
“The Brazilian people WON’T BE ANYONE’S GUINEA PIG,” he wrote on Twitter.
But with Mr. Trump gone and Brazilian hospitals overwhelmed by a surge of infections, Mr. Bolsonaro’s government scrambled to mend fences with the Chinese and asked them to expedite tens of millions of vaccine shipments, as well as the ingredients to mass-produce the shots in Brazil.
The precise impact of the vaccine request to Huawei and its inclusion in the 5G auction is unclear, but the timing is striking, part of a stark change in Brazil’s stance toward China. The president, his son and the foreign minister abruptly stopped criticizing China, while cabinet officials with inroads to the Chinese, like Mr. Faria, worked furiously to get new vaccine shipments approved. Millions of doses have arrived in recent weeks.
“With the desperation in Latin America for vaccines, this creates a perfect position for the Chinese,” said Evan Ellis, a professor of Latin American studies at the United States Army War College, who specializes on the region’s relationship with China.
Britain and Germany — Huawei has mounted a well-timed charm offensive in Brazil.
said in a message on Twitter announcing the gift.
Before the first vaccines rolled off assembly lines, Huawei seemed to be losing the 5G contest in Brazil, knocked to the sidelines by the Trump administration’s campaign against it. Latin America’s largest nation was only months away from holding an auction to create its 5G network, a sweeping upgrade that will make wireless connections faster and more accessible.
Huawei, along with two European competitors, Nokia and Ericsson, aspired to play a leading role in partnering with local telecommunications companies to build the infrastructure. But the Chinese company needed the green light from Brazilian regulators to take part.
The Trump administration moved aggressively to thwart it. During a visit to Brazil last November, Keith Krach, then the State Department’s top official for economic policy, called Huawei an industry pariah that needed to be locked out of 5G networks.
“The Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted with our most sensitive data and intellectual property,” he said in a Nov. 11 speech in Brazil, during which he referred to Huawei as “the backbone of the CCP surveillance state.”
Brazil’s foreign ministry said Brazil “supports the principles contained in the Clean Network proposal made by the United States.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a son of the president, who headed the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Congress, said in a tweet that Brazil would back Washington’s push.
China had already faced scorn in some corners of Latin America early in the pandemic, as concerns that it had been careless in allowing the virus to slip beyond its borders took root. Beijing’s reputation took an additional hit in Peru, after exporting cheap, unreliable Covid tests that became an early misstep in the country’s efforts to rein in contagion.
But China found an opportunity to shift the narrative early this year, as its CoronaVac became the cheapest and most accessible inoculation for countries in the developing world.
With the pandemic under control in China, Sinovac, the maker of CoronaVac, began shipping millions of doses abroad, offering free samples to 53 countries and exporting it to 22 nations that placed orders.
What You Need to Know About the Vaccine Rollout
As the first doses of CoronaVac were administered in Latin America, China took a swipe at wealthy nations that were doing little to guarantee prompt access to vaccines in poorer countries.
said in a speech late last month. “We hope that all countries that have the capability will join hands and make due contributions.”
In late February, as the first doses of China’s vaccines were being administered in Brazil, the country’s telecom regulatory agency announced rules for the 5G auction, which is scheduled to take place in July, that do not exclude Huawei.
The change in Brazil reflects how the campaign against Huawei driven by Mr. Trump has lost momentum since his defeat in the November election. Britain said it would not ban equipment made by Huawei from its new high-speed 5G wireless network. Germany has signaled a similar approach to Britain’s.
Thiago de Aragão, a Brasília-based political risk consultant who focuses on China’s relationships in Latin America, said two factors saved Huawei from a humiliating defeat in Brazil. The election of President Biden, who has harshly criticized Brazil’s environmental record, made the Brazilian government unenthusiastic about being in lock step with Washington, he said, and China’s ability to make or break the early phase of Brazil’s vaccination effort made the prospect of angering the Chinese by banning Huawei untenable.
“They were facing certain death by October and November and now they’re back in the game,” Mr. de Aragão said of Huawei.
The request for vaccines by the Brazilian communications minister, Mr. Faria, occurred as it became clear Beijing held the keys to accelerate or throttle the vaccination campaign in Brazil, where more than 270,000 people have died of Covid-19.
Feb. 11, Mr. Faria posted a letter from China’s ambassador to Brazil in which the ambassador noted the request and wrote that “I give this matter great importance.”
In a statement, Huawei did not say it would provide vaccines directly but said the company could help with “communication in an open and transparent manner in a topic involving the two governments.”
China is also the dominant supplier of vaccines in Chile, which has mounted the most aggressive inoculation campaign in Latin America, and it is shipping millions of doses to Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.
In a sign of China’s growing leverage, Paraguay, where Covid-19 cases are surging, has struggled to gain access to Chinese vaccines because it is among the few countries in the world that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
In an interview, Paraguay’s foreign minister, Euclides Acevedo, said his country is seeking to negotiate access to CoronaVac through intermediary countries. Then he made an extraordinary overture to China, which has spent years trying to get the last few countries that recognize Taiwan to switch their alliances.
“We would hope the relationship does not end at vaccines, but takes on another dimension in the economic and cultural spheres,” he said. “We must be open to every nation as we seek cooperation and to do so we must have a pragmatic vision.”
First Ukraine got caught up in the geopolitics of vaccine distribution between Russia and the West, and struggled to get hold of any doses. Now that it has them, Ukraine faces a new challenge: finding enough people who are willing to be vaccinated.
The country is so plagued by misinformation about Covid-19 that vaccine hesitancy in Ukraine is among the worst in Europe, even among doctors and nurses.
That shows in the slow start for Ukraine’s vaccination program: So far, just over 23,000 people have received a dose, out of a population of 42 million.
Ukrainian news media have carried reports of opened vials of vaccine going to waste at hospitals because not enough willing doctors and nurses could be found to receive the doses.
released a study saying that Ukraine was suffering from an “infodemic,” with social media “flooded with false narratives” about the disease and vaccination.
Ukraine’s tense internal politics are partly to blame.
Opponents of President Volodymyr Zelensky have extended their criticism of him to the two vaccines his administration has put into use — one from Oxford-AstraZeneca and the other from Sinovac — both of which have been shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective.
A former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who now heads an opposition party, introduced a bill in Parliament that implicitly criticized the Zelensky administration’s choices by providing for the government to compensate Ukrainians for any side effects and “protect every Ukrainian from the negative consequences” of the two vaccines.
A former president, Petro O. Poroshenko, said that Ukrainian health care workers were refusing inoculation in the belief that the two vaccines were of poor quality. He used scatological language to describe the vaccines in a speech in Parliament.
The Ukrainian health minister, Maksym Stepanov, said in an interview that the political fight was eroding confidence in vaccination. “Politicians contribute to people’s distrust of vaccines,” he said.
one-third of doctors and nurses in the country have already been infected with the coronavirus, and the rest are evenly divided between those who want to be inoculated and those who say they have no intention of taking either of the available vaccines.
Mr. Stepanov said that the widely held negative attitudes were a result of “a lot of fake news spread by members of the anti-vaccination movement.”