BY KENNETH MATIMAIRE
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has cleared the controversy surrounding the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine, Sinopharm, saying countries were free to import the drug and administer it.
Sinopharm has not yet been certified by the global health agency, as it is currently undergoing the evaluation process.
There have been general reservations about the Covid-19 vaccines globally with Zimbabweans being among those reluctant to take the Chinese vaccine due to widespread speculation and unfounded conspiracy theories against it.
As at this week, less than 40 000 people had been vaccinated out of the 400 000 Sinopharm jabs donated by China. Zimbabwe is targeting to inoculate 10 million people to achieve herd immunity.
Only four vaccines have so far been approved by WHO, namely AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-Biotech and Modena.
Sinopharm is one of the 27 vaccines that are undergoing the emergency use and evaluation process under the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts.
WHO country representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Alex Gasasira said this week there was nothing amiss with the process in which the Chinese government handled its vaccine distribution.
The global health body explained that the Chinese government had the right to distribute the drug within its borders since it was approved by its national regulatory authority.
“Vaccines are taken to the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts after they have been registered in their countries of origin. So, you are taking these documents to WHO for you to have a global approval or registration of your vaccine,” Gasasira said during a question and answer session at a training programme on Covid-19 reporting in Gweru organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter.
“But you are perfectly free to use it in your own country because you developed it and your own regulatory authority has approved it. And if there is person A or B who wishes to buy from you, they can buy and use it.”
He said while it was good to have WHO approval, it did not hamper use of a vaccine or medicine.
“There are many examples of medicines that are registered by the Food and Drug Administration of the USA that are not registered by WHO. They are being used because the Food and Drug Administration is registered. There are many of these examples,” Gasasira said.
He said people should understand the process that leads to certification of drugs.
“WHO insists that one brings dossiers after a national regulatory authority has registered you. When your national regulatory authority is happy with the work that you have done in developing that vaccine or developing that medicine or in developing that medical device, then you bring your papers to us. We then look at the documents,” Gasasira said.
He said chances were high for discordance between WHO and member countries or manufacturers over the certification of vaccines.
“So at the end of the day you might have discordance where WHO might say, maybe we need more evidence here, we need more evidence there, do this and that while the national regulatory authority is happy. And for as long as the national authority is happy that medicine can be on the market,” Gasasira said.
He said Sinopharm is fairly advanced in the process of WHO evaluation though its recommendation depends on when the manufacturers submitted their documents.