The coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac has demonstrated an efficacy rate of 78 per cent in late-stage trials in Brazil, delivering a boost to China’s efforts to burnish its medical technology abroad and catch up with western vaccine manufacturers.
The results, announced on Wednesday by the Brazilian institute running the trial, pave the way for the rollout of the vaccine in Brazil and should please Beijing, which has made grand promises to manufacture and deliver vaccines across the developing world.
“The result means that the vaccine has a high degree of efficiency to protect the lives of Brazilians,” said João Doria, governor of São Paulo. “It is a historic moment.”
The vaccine, named Coronavac, uses a chemically inactivated version of the virus to provoke an immune response. Trials of the shot are also under way in Indonesia, Turkey and Chile.
Almost 13,000 Brazilians participated in the joint trial with the Butantan Institute in São Paulo which began in July. The vaccine, which requires two doses, generates an immune response after 28 days, the institute said.
Coronavac is one of four Chinese vaccines nearing completion of phase 3 trials. Two of the other shots are made by state-backed pharmaceutical group Sinopharm and one by Tianjin-based CanSino, which is listed in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Little data has been publicly released on any of the Chinese vaccines and none of have been submitted for approval in Europe or the US. But one of the vaccines developed by Sinopharm is already being administered in the UAE and Bahrain, where the governments separately said interim trial results had showed an efficacy rate of 86 per cent. Sinopharm later published some results on its website and said the shot had showed efficacy of 79 per cent.
At 78 per cent, Coronavac’s reported effectiveness is lower than vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna — which reported efficacy rates of 95 per cent and 94.1 per cent respectively — but higher than the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot at 70 per cent.
The vaccine still requires approval from Anvisa, Brazil’s health regulator, but the state government of São Paulo has already set out a timetable for vaccinations, with the first inoculations scheduled for January 25.
Despite the support of the São Paulo government, the development of the Sinovac jab in Brazil’s wealthiest state was long derided by the federal government. President Jair Bolsonaro at one point directly criticised the initiative, saying Brazilians should not be China’s “guinea pigs.” Almost 200,000 Brazilians have died from Covid-19.
Brazil has also sought to procure 70m doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine but progress has been slow and questions remain about whether the country’s rickety infrastructure can handle the rollout of a shot that must be kept at temperatures below minus 70C.
The Sinovac jab, in contrast, only requires refrigeration at between 2C and 8C. Some 1.2m doses of the vaccine were delivered to Indonesia in December and another 1.8m are expected to arrive in the south-east Asian nation this month.
Sinovac secured a cash injection of $515m from Hong Kong-listed Sino Biopharmaceutical in December that the group said would be used to improve vaccine sales capabilities and expand distribution in Asian markets.
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler