Covid-19 vaccine
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China’s Sinopharm wants to supply Kenya with Covid-19 vaccine

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A medical attendant prepares to vaccinate health workers with Chinese-made Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine.

Photo credit: Arif Ali | AFP

China’s state-owned pharmaceutical Sinopharm has officially declared interest in supplying Kenya with a coronavirus vaccine.

The big pharma’s vaccine is not only approved in China for general public use but is also being used in a number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates.  

Speaking to the Nation on Wednesday, Dr Willis Akhwale, the chairman of Kenya’s Covid-19 advisory task force for vaccine deployment and vaccination, disclosed the company had officially reached out but the Ministry of Health (MoH) is yet to respond.

“The company wrote to us but we have not managed to have a meeting, though we know their vaccines have been presented to Covax for evaluation,” he said.

Negotiations with China


Health workers and Nanyuki residents during free screening on January 19. Cancer is the third leading cause of deaths in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular diseases.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

A few weeks ago, in an interview with the Nation, Kenya’s director general of health, Dr Patrick Amoth, however indicated the country is in negotiations with China.

“We are in talks with many manufacturers including Russia and China,” the director said.  

The MoH says it is ready and open to buy from other sources because under the Covax programme, there is a lot of competition from other parties that purchase directly from manufacturers.

“The final decision has not yet been made,” the chairman clarified.

Requests to Gavi

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Kenya has already submitted its requests to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organisation appointed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to oversee procurement, allotment and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to 92 countries that have signed up for the Covax facility.

“Covax assured us they will deliver by end of February. Initially they had not been committing but now they have,” Dr Akhwale revealed.

The programme will only cover the most vulnerable 20 per cent of each country’s population.

With each vaccine requiring the administration of two doses, Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion, will protectively need at least 1.6 billion doses to cover the 60 per cent vaccination target.  

Many African countries, in an attempt to cover Covax’s narrow reach, are embracing the idea of buying from Russia and China, with China’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine, which is manufactured by Sinopharm, emerging as a favourite.

This is despite the fact that medical experts have questioned the vaccine’s safety considering China is not willing to release publicly any of their trial results.

Russia vaccine

Russia’s leading vaccine, Sputnik V, according to an interim analysis published by The LancetJournal this week, was found to be 91.6 per cent effective against patients who have Covid-19 symptoms.

Sinopharm’s vaccine was approved on January 4 after registering a 79 per cent efficacy rate during its late-stage trials, according to Chinese officials.   

Reports indicated a small-sample lab study released on Tuesday showed two Covid-19 vaccines from Chinese big pharmas, including Sinopharm, triggered immunity against a highly transmissible coronavirus variant that was first discovered in South Africa, though their effect appeared weaker.

According to the researcher, 12 serum samples, each taken from recipients of two vaccines developed by a subsidiary of Sinopharm and a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products, retained neutralising activity against the South African variant.

Africa’s Covid hotspot

South Africa is Africa’s coronavirus hotspot, with 1.4 million confirmed cases, according to officials.

The head of the country’s coronavirus task force, Dr Salim Abdool Karim, recently said the peak of the new wave appears to be subsiding after the nation, from late December 2020, started experiencing a second wave featuring a new variant called 501.V2.

The good news is that the current vaccines are expected to work.

“South Africa has been more hit than us, that’s why they are proactive,” Dr Akhwale explained.

He said the fact that South Africa was the first to explore direct procurement of Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (the world’s biggest vaccine maker) immensely helped the country receive its first batch this week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, accompanied by other officials, witnessed as the first vaccine shipment from the Serum Institute of India landed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Monday afternoon via an Emirates flight.  

“The scale of delivery is unprecedented in terms of the number of people who have to be reached within a short space of time,” the president and African Union (AU) chairman said.