As the search continues for Covid-19 vaccines that are effective against the 501.YV2 variant of the virus, calls are growing for the government to look to countries such as China, Cuba and Russia for alternatives.
On Sunday, the department of health announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild to moderate illness, which led to the subsequent suspension of the inoculation programme.
And on Wednesday, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize gave a brief update to parliament’s portfolio committee on health on the country’s progress towards the procurement of vaccine alternatives.
The minister’s thoughts on the Cuban vaccine
According to Mkhize, Cuba had requested a collaboration between the two countries, and the matter had been referred to the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) for consideration.
“We have not had much information about it. Most of our information leaned onto the published scientific papers that are available for all the countries,” Mkhize said.
Cuba is the only Latin American country that has developed its own vaccine. One of the country’s four vaccines, the Soberana II, is reported to be in the process of starting phase three trials in March, with 150 000 volunteers.
Mkhize’s take on the Chinese vaccine
As things stand, South Africa and China’s Sinovac Biotech have agreed to collaborate. The manufacturer has offered to make about two million doses of the vaccine available to South Africa. But according to the minister, pricing issues and outstanding results on the vaccine at the time of the initial discussions led to delays in the finalisation of the deal.
“Since then, there has been a nondisclosure agreement signed, which allows us to get more detailed information from Sinovac,” Mkhize said.
What do we know about the Sinovac vaccine?
Sinovac Biotech’s Coronavac vaccine has been approved by China’s regulator, the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA). The conditional marketing authorisation given to the vaccine allows it to be administered to individuals aged 18 years and older.
According to a company press release, Sinovac Biotech began making submissions to the NMPA for rolling reviews in September and 40 submissions had been made as of 4 February.
The company then applied for conditional marketing authorisation on 3 February after obtaining the results of its phase three clinical trials. The multinational trials, which had 25 000 participants, were conducted in Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Chile.
The phase three trials in Brazil and Turkey evaluated the efficacy of the vaccine on health workers who provided treatment to Covid-19 patients.
The efficacy rate from the two-dose vaccine against diseases caused by Covid-19 was 50% for all cases. The efficacy rate for cases that required medical treatment was 83.70%, and the Coronavac vaccine offered 100% protection against severe illness, hospitalisation and death 14 days after vaccination.
The Coronavac vaccine is currently authorised for emergency use in Turkey, Brazil, Chile and Indonesia.