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Covax initiative will help African countries combat the Covid-19 pandemic

A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech. File picture: Thomas Peter/Reuters

A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech. File picture: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Published Feb 11, 2021


Helmo Preuss

China’s participation in the World Health Organisation (WHO)-led Covax alliance shows China’s concrete commitment to the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Delivering on the promise of making the Covid-19 vaccine a global public good, China has pledged 10 million doses to Covax.

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In his address to the World Economic Forum in January, President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed the need for a collaborative effort to combat the scourge of the virus, which has cost the lives of more than two million people globally.

“We are deeply concerned about the problem of ‘vaccine nationalism’, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries. Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the roll out of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort,” Ramaphosa said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ramaphosa were in early communication with each other, and jointly initiated the extraordinary China-Africa summit on solidarity against Covid-19.

This solidarity will require a multi-year commitment as the virus will not disappear tomorrow, because it has the ability to mutate and so combat the vaccines that medical science uses to defeat it. People around the world are hoping that an effective Covid-19 vaccine will allow economic activity to return to normal.

At least seven vaccines against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 have won approval for public or emergency use in several countries, with Russia winning the global race to get regulatory approval for a vaccine with its Sputnik V vaccine.

Depending on the different technologies used, the effectiveness of the available vaccines ranges between 50% and 95%, based on clinical trials, some of which have also been conducted in South Africa.

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Although there remain intellectual disputes over what analytical approach works best and how will the vaccines protect in mass inoculation drives, all of the approved vaccines have outperformed the WHO’s efficacy requirement.

On February 3, humanity reached an important milestone as the number of humans inoculated against the virus exceeded the number of confirmed cases.

The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 won’t just disappear by itself despite claims by former US president Donald Trump in March that this would happen soon, so people must learn to coexist with it, according to qualified health experts.

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Effective vaccines and adequate inoculation will be the only way to stop the pandemic and prevent societies from being paralysed again by the virus, which is why China’s support for the Covax programme is important as many African countries lack the financial resources to buy the vaccines from the pharmaceutical companies.

Sinovac Biotech said on February 6, that its’s Covid-19 vaccine has been formally approved for use by the general public by China's medical products regulator. It marks the second Covid-19 vaccine approved for public use in China, after a vaccine developed by a Beijing institute affiliated to state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) was approved in December.

Both vaccines have been used in China’s vaccination programme mainly targeting key groups deemed to be at higher risk of exposure to the virus. Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Laos have granted emergency authorisation for the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac.

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Approval of the two-dose regimen by China's national medical products administration is based on the results from two months of late-stage clinical trials overseas. Sinovac aims to produce more than one billion doses per year.

Sinovac's vaccine is being tested in Phase III clinical trials in countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia. The Brazil trial found that the vaccine was 83.7% effective against the disease that requires medical treatment, and 100% effective against hospitalisation, severe cases and death.

When Covid-19 took hold early last year, Chinese scientists immediately got to work and shared the gene sequence of the novel coronavirus in a matter of days.

Covax is preparing to deliver two billion doses this year around the world. This unprecedented undertaking has been made possible only through international co-operation as various parties brought their skills to the effort.

Collaboration will benefit African countries as they seek to improve the lives of all their citizens and leave the deprivations of last year behind them.

* Preuss is an economist at Forecaster Ecosa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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