South Africa hails WHO approval of Chinese Sinovac jab

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA DECEMBER 08, 2017: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during an interview in his home in Hyde Park on December 08, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ramaphosa shot down President Jacob Zumas proposal to have the loser candidate automatically be made the deputy president with the election only days away. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)
In this photo illustration, a close up of a hand holding a medical syringe seen displayed in front of the Sinovac logo. (Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday welcomed the World Health Organisation’s approval of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, hoping it will mean more vaccines for his population and those in poorer countries.

The emergency approval for the Beijing-based firm Sinovac’s two-dose vaccine CoronaVac, announced Tuesday, opens the door for the jabs to be included in the COVAX global vaccine-sharing facility, which aims to provide equitable access to doses around the world, particularly in poorer countries.

“We welcome the news that the World Health Organisation has validated the Sinovac from China COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use,” Ramaphosa told parliament in Cape Town.

Ramaphosa lauded the go-ahead as “a crucial step” that should move South Africa’s regulatory authorities to look into purchasing Sinovac.

The Sinovac serum is “easy to store” and therefore “easy to manage, and particularly suitable for countries with few resources”, said WHO.

With over 1.6 million cases of which 56,601 were fatalities, around 1,045,104 people in South Africa have so far received jabs, mainly the elderly –who are yet to receive a second jab — and healthcare workers, using the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Ramaphosa said the government, which has been widely criticized for a slow vaccination drive, is continuing to engage with various manufacturers to ensure a reliable and diverse supply of vaccines.

But he stressed, once again, the need to waive intellectual property rights over coronavirus jabs, arguing it would speed up vaccine distribution and boost the local pharmaceutical market.

“It will pave the way for the development and growth of local pharmaceutical industries in our own country, on the continent as well and in other developing countries.”

The global campaign championed by South Africa and India to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines was supported by the other BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, China — at this week’s meeting of five of the world’s biggest emerging economies held in Delhi.