600,000 Sinopharm donation arrives: Chinese vaccine only for Chinese nationals

The stock of 600,000 doses of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine Sinopharm that arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday (31), would only be administered to Chinese nationals for now, as the Health authorities have decided to not administer the vaccine to locals until further data about the vaccine is available.

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (31) about the outcomes of a meeting held by the Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena on 30 March with the relevant advisory committee, Ministry of Health Epidemiology Unit Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said that the said committee did not arrive at a decision to inoculate locals with Sinopharm.

“The advisory committee awaits more data about the vaccine to make a decision on administering the Sinopharm vaccine to locals,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Government had requested Sri Lanka to prioritise Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka when administering the 600,000 Sinopharm doses donated by them. Ambassador of China to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong, speaking at the ceremony held at the Bandaranaike International Airport yesterday to hand over the stock of Sinopharm vaccine doses, expressed appreciation for “the Government of Sri Lanka deciding to include Chinese nationals in its vaccination plan”.

The administration of the Sinopharm vaccine to Chinese nationals is to begin next week in four areas of the country.

“Chinese nationals would be administered their first dose of Sinopharm next week. The administration will take place in Colombo, Kandy, Hambantota, and Puttalam,” said Dr. Samaraweera. Chinese nationals who are above the age of 18 years would be vaccinated from 5 April. Most of the Chinese nationals receiving the vaccine are workers and they amount to about 4,000-5,000 individuals. The vaccination in Colombo will be done at a centre in the Port City premises, noted Dr. Samaraweera.

The Board of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) granted approval for the Sinopharm vaccine to be brought to Sri Lanka under Section 109 of the NMRA Act, The Morning learnt from NMRA Acting Chairman Prof. Sisira Siribaddana.

The Section holds that the NMRA may grant permission in special circumstances, such as to save a life, to control an outbreak of an infection or an epidemic, or any other national emergency, or for national security, to import, and supply, a particular medicine, medical device, or borderline product, in specified quantities.

However, the emergency use registration that was granted for the Oxford Astra-Zeneca Covishield vaccine of the Serum Institute of India and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute’s Sputnik V vaccine by the NMRA expert committee has not been granted to the Sinopharm vaccine yet.

Reliable sources at the Ministry of Health told The Morning that the committee of experts in the NMRA is yet to provide clearance to Sinopharm, as it is still being reviewed. However, the sources added that some members of the said committee were also a part of the NMRA Board that granted approval for Sinopharm under Section 109 of the NMRA Act.

Issuing a press release on 30 March, the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) raised concerns about the NMRA allowing Sinopharm to be brought to Sri Lanka. Citing a report issued on 17 March by the independent panel of experts appointed to review candidate vaccines, AMS President Dr. Lalantha Ranasinghe claimed that this committee did not approve the use of Sinopharm in Sri Lanka at present.

“After reviewing all the data made available by the manufacturer of Sinopharm, the panel concluded that there is insufficient data provided to make a determination on the safety, efficacy, and immunogenicity of the Sinopharm vaccine. It was accordingly concluded that the Sinopharm vaccine should not be used in Sri Lanka under the present circumstances,” he said.

It was reported that the United Arab Emirates health authorities have begun administering a third dose of Sinopharm to some residents as the vaccine in some cases has not generated enough protective antibodies.

The two-dose BBIBP-CorV, or Sinopharm vaccine, manufactured by the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation, is yet to receive Emergency Use Listing (EUL) from the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

However, only the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the Jassen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, and the Oxford Astra-Zeneca anti-Covid-19 vaccine have received the EUL from the WHO so far. The Moderna anti-Covid-19 vaccine and the Russian Sputnik V too are yet to receive WHO EUL, though they are currently being administered.