Experts not worried as Sinopharm efficacy questioned

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AMMAN — Recent comments from a Chinese medical official have raised questions about the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine, which has been widely distributed in Jordan. But Jordanian health experts do not seem worried.اضافة اعلان

The efficacy of the Chinese coronavirus vaccines is "not high" and the jabs may require improvements, said the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported by international media last week. The official also suggested that recipients may need to mix vaccines that are made with different technologies.

Jordan has relied heavily on Sinopharm, one of the Chinese-made vaccines, to inoculate the population, in addition to the Pfizer-NBiotech and AstraZeneca vaccines. Earlier in April, 196,000 doses of Sinopharm arrived, according to Minister of Health Firas Al-Hawari.

Former Jordanian minister of health and current adviser for government affairs for the Middle East and North Africa at Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Salah Mawajdeh, attributed concerns around Sinopharm to the fact that the company has not shared detailed clinical data findings.

“I am not personally worried about this issue because one has to rely on other sources of data to make a judgment,” he said in a message to Jordan News. 

“China itself is using it and they have controlled the spread of the epidemic. Other countries using it are not reporting issues of safety and effectiveness. The exception is Latin America, which is using SinoVac. In Jordan, we are using Sinopharm which is much better in terms of performance.”

Sinopharm’s efficacy data has been mixed, hindered in part by the fact that China, where the vaccine is produced and has been widely distributed, had very low rates of COVID-19 due to severe lockdowns even before the vaccination campaign began. Sinopharm achieved 79 percent efficacy in a Phase III study conducted in 10 countries, and the United Arab Emirates has reported that the vaccine has 86 percent efficacy. This is comparatively lower than the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, which have reported over 95 percent efficacy, but still significantly higher than many basic influenza vaccines, which range in efficacy from 30 to 60 percent.

According to Ahmad Sarahneh, head of the Health Committee at the Lower House, the legislature will pressure the health minister to stop administering the vaccine if efficacy data find that it is less than 70 percent effective. He pointed out that the statements from China come after the emergence of new variants of COVID-19, which present challenges for all vaccines.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use; according to a WHO document, Sinopharm has submitted a dossier for approval and they anticipate that a decision will be issued by the end of April. 

In the UAE, officials have experimented with administering three shots of the Sinopharm vaccine rather than two after there were reports that some recipients had low antibody counts.

Some Jordanians have expressed a preference for Sinopharm, because it uses the “old-school” inactivated virus methodology. This mechanism, which involves injecting a killed virus particle to trigger the production of antibodies, has been used for over a century in common vaccines such as the rabies vaccine (first developed in the 1880s), the typhoid vaccine (developed in the 1890s), and the polio vaccine (developed in 1950). In contrast, the Pfizer-NBiotech and Moderna vaccines use a novel mRNA technology to inoculate recipients.

Sinopharm’s relatively low efficacy also raises questions about the idea of “vaccine passports” or other certificates allowing people to show proof of vaccination to travel freely. Several American universities, including Yale and Columbia, have already announced that students will be required to get vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall. They did not specify which vaccines would satisfy the requirement.

The European Union (EU) has said that they will launch vaccine passports in June to restore free travel for those who have immunity. In February, the EU gathered to discuss the possibility of vaccine passports. But according to media reports, they identified a problem: some countries, such as Hungary, have been administering Sinopharm and other vaccines that have not been approved by the EU.

Restrictions for travelers without EU-approved vaccines have already had consequences. In Poland, individuals wishing to enter the country will either have to provide a negative coronavirus test or proof of vaccination — and vaccines not approved by the EU, such as Sinopharm, don’t count.

Earlier in April, the WHO announced that they opposed the introduction of “vaccine passports” as a requirement for entering or exiting certain countries, citing concerns over whether vaccination prevents transmission and equity concerns.

According to Mawajdeh, it is “too early” to judge whether a Sinopharm jab will disrupt Jordanians seeking to travel to other countries. “Getting immunity is not just through vaccination,” he pointed out. “The disease itself gives immunity so there is no sense in asking everyone to get vaccinated in order to travel freely.”

Of course, a lower efficacy vaccine still provides more protection than no vaccine at all. Mawajdeh said that Jordanians should “definitely” take the Sinopharm vaccine.

Despite multiple attempts, Jordan News was unable to reach concerned officials at the Ministry of Health to obtain a comment for this story. The WHO was also unavailable for comment.

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