Chinese health regulators said Thursday that they have given conditional approval to a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm.
The inactivated, two-dose vaccine is the first one approved for general use in China. The go-ahead comes as the country carries out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before a major holiday for the Lunar New Year in February, reports AP.
Chen Shifei, the deputy commissioner of the National Medical Products Administration, said at a news conference that the decision had been made the previous night.
The vaccine was developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm. The company announced Wednesday that preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown it to be 79.3% effective.
Final proof of its effectiveness will depend on publication of more data.
Sinopharm is one of at least five Chinese developers that are in a global race to create vaccines for the disease that has killed more than 1.8 million people.
Conditional approval means that research is still ongoing, and the regulators can request more safety and effectiveness data about certain populations with different health profiles, Tao Lina, a former government immunologist, said at the news conference.
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Usually, it means that the drug or product in question may be restricted for certain age groups, he said.
Officials declined to name a particular price. “It will certainly be in the limit of what people can afford,” said Zheng Zhongwei, a National Health Commission official.
The Beijing Institute vaccine is already under mass production, though officials did not answer questions about current production capacity.
“Production capacity is a dynamic and continuous process,” said Mao Junfeng, Vice Director of the Department of Industry of Consumer Products of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
India has planned a two-day dry run in four of its states to check the micro-level preparedness for a nationwide Covid-19 inoculation drive.
The states of Punjab in the north, Assam in the northeast, Andhra Pradesh in the south and Gujarat in the west will see the dry run of the Covid-19 vaccination drive on December 28-29, the Indian Health Ministry said on Friday.
Each state will carry out the dry run in two districts to check their preparedness in various types of medical settings such as district hospitals, rural and urban community health centres and private hospitals.
The dry run will focus on cold storage and transportation arrangements for the vaccine, crowd management at immunisation sites as well as dealing with any post-vaccination complications, according to the Ministry.
"This exercise will enable end-to-end mobilisation and testing of Covid vaccination process and check the usage of Co-WIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) in the field environment," the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the government would start the vaccination drive in the next six to seven months.
The government of Punjab has welcomed the dry run ahead of the nationwide rollout of the vaccination drive. "It will provide insights on any gaps or bottlenecks so that those could be addressed before the commencement of immunisation," Health Minister Balbir Singh said.
The Indian government has already trained near 2,300 health professionals for the nationwide drive and started a Covid vaccination helpline. This is apart from the hundreds of health workers being trained by the Indian states.
The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration of Covid-19 (NEGVAC) has recommended three prioritised population groups, including healthcare workers (about one crore), frontline workers (about one crore), and senior citizens for phase 1 of vaccination.
India's cumulative Covid case count now stands at over one crore, with nearly 1.5 lakh deaths.
Police Thursday stopped opposition Congress party's march to meet Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and detained Priyanka Gandhi and other leaders, officials said.
The leaders apart from presenting 20 million signatures to the president against the farm laws were going to present him memorandum seeking his intervention for the withdrawal of the contentious laws against which thousands of farmers are presently protesting in and outside national capital New Delhi for nearly a month, reports Xinhua.
However, only three leaders Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury were later permitted to meet President Kovind.
"I told the president that these farm laws are anti-farmer. The country has seen that farmers have stood up against these laws," Rahul Gandhi said after the meeting.
Rahul Gandhi said the government should convene a joint session of parliament and take back these laws.
"I want to tell the prime minister that these farmers are not going to go back home until these farm laws are repealed. The government should convene a joint session of parliament and take back these laws. Opposition parties stand with farmers and labourers," he said.
Several rounds of talks between the government and protesting farmers have failed to end the deadlock.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been strongly defending the three laws and accused the opposition parties of misleading the farmers.
Thursday marks the twentieth-nine straight day of the protests.
A car bomb blast that rocked Afghanistan’s capital Sunday morning killed at least nine people, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi told reporters at the site of the attack that the attack wounded around 20 others, including a member of parliament, Khan Mohammad Wardak. Andarabi said the lawmaker was in “good condition.”
The interior minister added that the casualty toll could rise further.
The attack happened while the lawmaker’s convey was passing through an intersection in Kabul’s Khoshal Khan neighborhood. The blast set afire surrounding civilian vehicles, as well as damaging nearby buildings and shops.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement condemning the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the Taliban should stop violence against civilians and accept a ceasefire, to facilitate the current peace process.
Ghani’s statement did not directly lay blame on the Taliban for the car bombing or offer evidence that the group was responsible for it.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in the capital of Kabul in recent months, including on educational institutions that killed 50 people, most of them students.
IS also claimed responsibility for Saturday’s rocket attacks at the major U.S. base in Afghanistan. There were no casualties in that assault, according to NATO and provincial officials.
A NATO official confirmed the attack and said initial reports indicated that the airfield was not damaged.
In another report from the southern Helmand province, the Afghan Defense Ministry in a statement confirmed that a suicide car bomber tried to attack an army checkpoint, but was identified and shot by soldiers.
Two soldiers were slightly wounded in the attempted assault in Nawa district, the ministry said.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Helmand.
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked even as the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators hold talks in Qatar, trying to hammer out a peace deal that could put an end to decades of war. At the same time, the Taliban have waged bitter battles against IS fighters, particularly in eastern Afghanistan, while continuing their insurgency against government forces.
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Earlier this week, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held an unannounced meeting with Taliban leaders in Doha to discuss military aspects of last February’s U.S.-Taliban agreement.
The agreement, signed in Qatar where the Taliban maintain a political office, was intended to set the stage for direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
After talks with the Taliban, Milley flew to Kabul to consult with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He said he emphasized to both parties the need to rapidly reduce levels of violence across the country.
China will start inoculating some key groups with COVID-19 vaccines in this winter-spring period, said a National Health Commission (NHC) official in Beijing on Saturday.
In a two-step vaccination drive, the vaccines will be given first to priority groups, including those engaged in handling imported cold-chain products and people working in exposed sectors. These include port inspection and quarantine, aviation, public transport, fresh market, medical treatment, and disease control, Cui Gang, an official with NHC's disease control department, said at a press conference, reports Xinhua.
The vaccination program will also cover those who plan to work or study in countries and regions with medium or high risks of exposure to the virus, Cui added.
It will help relieve the pressure on China in preventing and controlling imported COVID-19 cases. It would also lower the risks of domestic outbreaks of the epidemic, said Cui.
Next, with COVID-19 vaccines officially approved to enter the market or the yield of vaccines improving steadily, China will put more vaccines into use, inoculating the eligible population as widely as possible, Cui said.
"This will gradually forge a barrier of immunity among the public to stop the spread of COVID-19 in China," Cui said.
China's COVID-19 vaccine development has entered the "final sprint," with five vaccines undergoing phase-3 clinical trials.
The State Council joint prevention and control mechanism against COVID-19 has ordered the strict inspection of vaccine quality, safe and smooth cold-chain transportation, as well as timely and accurate delivery of vaccines, said Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the NHC.
The mechanism has also emphasized the importance of providing medical support and service. It especially applies to timely treatment and reporting of adverse reactions during the vaccination drive, Zeng said.
To protect high-risk groups, China approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines in June. More than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed for emergency inoculation use since July, said Zheng Zhongwei, an official with the NHC, at the press conference.
The emergency vaccinations were given to people with high exposure risks on the premise of voluntary, informed consent. "After strict monitoring and observation, no serious adverse reactions took place, " Zheng said.
Among those who received emergency vaccination in China, around 60,000 have gone to regions considered high-risk, and no serious infection cases emerged from these.
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Inactivated vaccines for emergency use include two inactivated vaccines developed by the China National Biotec Group, affiliated to Sinopharm, and one by Sinovac Biotech. They are all under international phase-3 clinical trials.
By now, about 75,000 people overseas have been enrolled in the phase-3 trials of the three vaccines, with 150,000 doses inoculated. "Study results have shown no serious safety threats," Zheng said.
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"It's on this basis that we decided to start the vaccination plan among the high-risk groups nationwide," he added.
China has adopted five technological approaches in developing COVID-19 vaccines, with 15 vaccines entering clinical trials. Five are currently undergoing phase-3 clinical trials.
An infectious disease sees no borders. "Our vaccination work will not only protect the Chinese people but also contribute to the global prevention and control of COVID-19," Zeng Yixin said. ■