September 25 2022 11:38 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Confusion over Sinopharm regulations

As hajj season approaches, Saudi Arabia is yet to approve Sinopharm vaccine

The Sinopharm vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use, paving the way for the shot to be administered around the globe. But several countries, including Saudi Ara
The Sinopharm vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use, paving the way for the shot to be administered around the globe. But several countries, including Saudi Arabia, are yet to approve the vaccine, causing concern and confusion for Jordanians traveling. (Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — The Sinopharm vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use, paving the way for the shot to be administered around the globe. But several countries, including Saudi Arabia, are yet to approve the vaccine, causing concern and confusion for Jordanians traveling. اضافة اعلان

On May 7, the WHO granted the Sinopharm vaccine emergency approval, estimating that the jab was 79 percent effective against symptomatic and hospitalized disease across all age groups. Sinopharm is one of two Chinese-manufactured vaccines, alongside Sinovac. The vaccine was approved in Jordan in January and has been widely administered.

In early April, Saudi authorities announced that only immunized people — who have either received the vaccine or recovered from the virus — will be permitted to perform umra. Saudi Arabia has authorized the Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Visitors who haven’t received shots from the approved manufacturers will have to undergo a mandatory quarantine upon arrival, paid for by the visitors themselves.

Several sources from the medical sector told Jordan News that the government is currently working on a solution in partnership with Saudi Arabia for Jordanians vaccinated with Sinopharm to enter the Saudi Arabia, especially as the hajj season approaches in July.

“We should be in friendship” with Saudi Arabia, said Mohannad Al-Nsour, executive director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network and member of the Epidemiology Committee, in an interview with Jordan News. “The problem is not allowing Jordanians to go to Saudi Arabia. They’re allowing them (to enter) but with institutional quarantine, which Jordanians and others do not prefer.” Thousands of Jordanians work and live in Saudi Arabia; Nsour suggested that the required institutional quarantine for those with Sinopharm may pose a challenge for Jordanians traveling back and forth to see family and work.

Nsour pointed out that Jordan has deep ties to Saudi Arabia. “The government is working very hard to resolve this problem, hopefully within the next two weeks. It’s not only related to hajj and umra; it’s a more problematic issue for the families residing there.”

The epidemiologist attributed the delay in approving Sinopharm to a variety of causes. “At the beginning, the available data and the requested documents were not submitted as needed,” he said. He added that in China there is “a different modality of work” which requires “more time to compare and to approve.” “And we should not forget about the political part of this game. I think it’s become a commercial, political, matter for many of these vaccination issues that we’ve witnessed these days.”

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Awqaf And Islamic Affairs Hussam Al-Hiyari told Jordan News that Saudi Arabia has yet to disclose official information about hajj season, including the number of people that will be allowed to attend and other logistical details regarding safe practices in light of the coronavirus. He added that Saudi Arabia has stipulated that it will only accept the AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer vaccines and has yet to specify what mechanism it will follow with those who have taken other vaccines.

Like Nsour, epidemiologist and former minister of health Saad Kharabsheh attributed the delay to “the delay in the announcement of the third stage of clinical trials by the Chinese government. It took several months until it was ready.”

But after the vaccine received WHO approval, “I can say there is no reason for not registering this vaccine in Saudi Arabia and in other countries. It is considered a low-cost vaccine, and more suitable for poor or middle-income countries.”

“I heard lately that there is a big discussion between different countries and the Saudi authorities, especially the Pakistani people, who started to discuss this issue with the Saudi government because of the hajj season,” he said. In 2019, before the pandemic, 2.5 million pilgrims visited Mecca for hajj. Since the coronavirus, the pilgrimages have been severely restricted. 

However, Ismail Matalka, professor of pathology at King Abdullah University Hospital and Jordan University of Science and Technology, thinks the difference in vaccine approvals is not concerning. “I don’t think this is a serious issue, in general,” he told Jordan News. “The restrictions are different. So far I’m not aware of any country which has requested vaccination as a requirement to enter that country” without providing alternatives such as a PCR test or mandatory quarantine. 

“We cannot generalize anything about this. There’s so much diversity between the different countries, even between the European Union or other countries.”

“I hope that this sort of regulation will be solved in the near future, to allow the people who want to visit Saudi Arabia, especially ... the millions of people who work in Saudi Arabia from different nations,” said Kharabsheh.

Read more National