China has started to vaccinate citizens even though safety trials have not been completed.The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has approved a vaccine from a Chinese drugmaker.Almost 100,000 people across the UAE have received the vaccine as part of a voluntary program.The United Arab Emirates approved the Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the country’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) announced Dec. 9.
According to the official press release, this vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since September to “protect frontline workers most at risk of COVID-19.”Sinopharm and the UAE have yet to release detailed data on a phase 3 trial of 31,000 participants to be widely verified by independent experts.
However, MOHAP and the Department of Health Abu Dhabi have reviewed an interim analysis of Sinopharm’s phase 3 trials, the ministry said in a statement.The data “shows Beijing Institute of Biological Product’s inactivated vaccine to have 86 percent efficacy against COVID-19 infection,” MOHAP said.
The UAE also said it’s conducting a post-authorization safety study (PASS) and a post-authorization efficacy study (PAES) of its emergency use authorization program. These ongoing studies “show similar safety and efficacy profiles as the interim analysis.”
Officials claim vaccine is 100% effective in preventing COVID-19
The analysis shows the vaccine to have “99 percent seroconversion rate of neutralizing antibody and 100 percent effectiveness in preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease,” MOHAP said.
The ministry also said that the analysis shows no serious safety concerns.However, it’s unclear without more information how the vaccine can be both 100 percent and 86 percent effective at preventing disease.So far, almost 100,000 people across the UAE have received the vaccine as part of a voluntary program, Jamal Al Kaabi, a top UAE health official, told CNN.
This isn’t the only vaccine candidate coming from China. Another vaccine developed by drugmaker Sinovac appears to be safe and stimulate a rapid immune response, according to early-stage clinical trials published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal.
Sinopharm vaccine relies on older technology
With the development of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, there are now three technologies that are being studied to see if they produce effective virus vaccines.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, these are:
Inactivated virus vaccines, which use a weakened form of disease virus to stimulate the body’s immune response. Sinopharm’s vaccine uses this technology.
Weakened virus vaccines, which contain a version of the living virus that has been weakened so that it doesn’t cause serious disease in people with healthy immune systems.
mRNA vaccines, which use part of the virus’ genetic information to teach our immune systems to produce certain antibodiesTrusted Source. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines use this technology.
“mRNA is a portion of virus genetic information,” Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “Other vaccines use a ‘crippled’ form of a whole virus to stimulate immunity like MMR [measles vaccine], flu [influenza].”
According to Dr. James Elder, internist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Southwest Fort Worth, this new technology is actually decades old.“This technology has actually been around since 1990,” he said. “The trial of the first mRNA product, which was not a human trial, was back in 1990, and showed some good efficacy.”
Elder said that in the early ’90s, a group of researchers used the same technology for a specific purpose and were able to demonstrate that “this technology was efficacious for the purposes that it was designed for.”
How do the vaccine types compare?
According to a 2019 studyTrusted Source, while vaccines that use a weakened (or dead) version of the virus have provided enormous benefits in saving lives, this technology had significant drawbacks in the past.
These include “the potential to cause disease in immuno-compromised individuals and the possibility of reversion to a virulent form,” the study authors said.Without more information, the risks and benefits of taking the Chinese vaccine remain unclear.On the other hand, vaccination with “non-viral delivered nucleic acid-based vaccines [mRNA] mimics infection or immunization with live microorganisms,” while stimulating a potent antibody immune response, according to the study.
The study also found that manufacturing the new type of vaccine is safe and timesaving. It also eliminates the dangers associated with the growing amount of dangerous pathogens and the need to produce vaccines at the scale needed to supply large populations.
There’s also “less risk from contamination with live infectious reagents and the release of dangerous pathogens,” the research said.The most significant difference between the older vaccine technologies and mRNA vaccines is the need to keep drugs such as Pfizer’s vaccine at extremely low temperaturesTrusted Source during storage and transport.This creates difficulties for developing countries that may not have the required facilities.
Only time will tell
We won’t know if the mRNA vaccine is more effective than the older types of vaccines until this time next year, Elder said, “after there’s been large-scale meta-analysis that can be done.”
But he foresees the biggest advantages for the new technology as: “Number one, rapidity of development, and number two, maybe a slightly more broad based application in terms of vaccine development.”Elder said that he would need more data to understand the safety risks of the Chinese vaccine.
“I don’t know what they’re doing to inactivate the virus, so I don’t know that I could speak specifically to the risk stratification for their vaccine,” he said. “But inactivated vaccine is something that we do regularly [in the United States].”If it’s done correctly, “it should be safe,” he said. “And I assume that the scientists in China are every bit as intelligent and capable as anywhere in the world.”
The bottom line
The United Arab Emirates has approved a Chinese vaccine candidate to prevent COVID-19 infection.This vaccine uses inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus, a method to make vaccines that’s older than mRNA, the technology used to manufacture Pfizer’s vaccine.
Interim results of the Chinese vaccine’s phase 3 trial have not yet been released. But UAE health officials said that, according to the data they have, the vaccine is 86 percent effective.Outside experts say they need to see more data to verify these claims.