#When #Egypt’s health ministry sent out an invitation to doctors to be vaccinated against #Covid-19, they neglected to make clear it was a clinical trial.
#Instead, it assured them that two #Covid-19 vaccines developed by #China’s #National #Biotec #Group, part of a state-owned conglomerate known as #Sinopharm, had no side-effects and that “the minister of health was vaccinated today, and orders were issued to vaccinate all doctors and workers who wish to be vaccinated”.
#Many were sceptical. “When my colleagues and I got that message, none of us participated, as we cannot trust it,” said one worker at a state hospital, who said there was a “lack of credibility” in the government’s approach to the pandemic and the vaccines.
The doctor, who cannot be named to protect their safety, described #Egypt’s extensive publicity campaign around the vaccines, featuring a well-known actor driving to a sunlit clinic to get his jab, as “government propaganda intended to boost people’s morale”.
#About 3,000 #Egyptian volunteers eventually participated in the trial, half the number that researchers wanted. #That was in #September.
#This week, the government says it will start vaccinating medical workers, primarily using #Sinopharm’s vaccines, aiming to eventually provide 10m doses .
“It’s now a trade-off between the risk of the virus, especially with the current surge in cases, and the risk of an untrusted vaccine with not enough supporting data at all,” said the doctor.
A lack of transparency from #China over data from late-stage trials has raised concerns, but the country is confidently pushing ahead with its “vaccine diplomacy” – using its cheaper options and availability to build bridges with countries in the #Middle #East and north #Africa.
#Sinopharm’s two vaccines offer attractive solutions to countries in need of protection against #Covid-19. #Even with support from #Gavi, the vaccine alliance, countries will need to source extra supplies to cover all their citizens and many will struggle.
#For #China, #Sinopharm’s vaccines represent an added opportunity to strengthen relations and use the #Middle #East’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities.
#Sinopharm’s vaccines are expected to be part of national rollouts in #Egypt, #Morocco, #United #Arab #Emirates and #Bahrain. #Both UAE and #Bahrain granted emergency approval for their use on frontline workers before clinical trials ended.
#Egypt has previously said it wants to become a production centre for the #Chinese vaccine in #Africa, while #Sinopharm is to build a manufacturing plant in #Morocco next year. UAE gifted #Egypt at least 100,000 free doses as part of its quest to become a “global logistics hub” for distribution. #This month UAE became the first country in the world to officially register #Sinopharm’s vaccines, stating that one of the inactivated vaccines was found to have an 86% efficacy.
#Bahrain also recently announced its own rollout. The kingdom separately approved registration for at least one of #Sinopharm’s two vaccines.
#Sinopharm and its #Emirati partner G42 said 45,000 people participated in phase-3 trials for efficacy and safety, although #Sinopharm has yet to release the data. #Part of the appeal of #Sinopharm’s vaccines is they require storage at the standard 2C-8C (35.6F to 46.4F), in contrast to newer mRNA vaccines, which require a cold storage chain.
“Health systems in all countries are used to systems of storing vaccines at 2C-8C,” said #Charlie #Weller, head of the #Wellcome #Trust’s vaccines programme. “Minus-twenty or -70C presents a logistical challenge, not just for lower- and middle-income countries but any country.”
#Sinopharm’s chair #Liu #Jingzhen recently announced that almost 1 million people had received vaccines under an emergency use authorisation. “We have not received any reports of serious adverse reaction, and only a few have some mild symptoms,” he said.
A separate study cited data from #Sinopharm’s phase-2 trials that suggested a 19% incidence of adverse reactions after two doses .
#Weller stressed that any vaccines administered under emergency-use authorisation do not contribute data to clinical trials. “This is why clinical trials are needed: we need data to be analysed and to understand the efficacy and safety of any vaccine. #We heard that many people had this vaccine under emergency use outside a clinical trial, but until we get that trial data we’re not getting any further information from those individuals outside,” she said.
#Throughout the summer, leaders across the region were photographed getting their shots, including #Dubai’s ruler #Mohammed bin #Rashid al-Maktoum and #Bahrain’s crown prince.
“We’re doing a good thing and everyone is hopeful,” said a hospital doctor in #Bahrain’s capital, #Manama, who asked not to be named. “A lot of people from #Bahrain and even the crown prince participated in the trials. #It was a good experience overall; at least I can say I helped somehow.
“I wouldn’t say there’s politics involved, I’d say everyone needs the #Covid-19 pandemic to be over, and we’re all in this whether you’re a big guy or a small guy.”
#Morocco began a programme this month to immunise 70% of its population after trialling #Sinopharm’s vaccines on 600 volunteers and also securing vaccines from #AstraZeneca.
“The majority of the vaccines distributed will be #Sinopharm,” said #Bouchra #Medda, director of medicines at the health ministry. “But #Morocco is still in negotiations for other types of vaccine, as we don’t know how different brands will complement one another.”
#Meddah said #Morocco preferred #Sinopharm’s vaccines due to their use of the inactivated coronavirus, rather than newer mRNA technology. “This type of inactivated vaccine has been used by humanity for years, for flus and other illnesses. #It has a well known and established method of production, which we found extremely reassuring,” she said.
“This [vaccine] will reinforce the historic partnership between #Morocco and #China ,” said #Meddah. “We’re thinking about saving lives, meaning we must find vaccines wherever they are.”
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