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Pending WHO approval, Sinopharm jab for Chinese workers only: cabinet spokesman

Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine – Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

ECONOMYNEXT – Some of the 600,000 Sinopharm doses that are due to be delivered to Sri Lanka tomorrow will be used to vaccinate Chinese nationals employed in the country, co-cabinet spokesman Minister Ramesh Pathirana said.

If the World Health Organisation (WHO) approves the Chinese-manufactured vaccine for emergency use, the health ministry will use the remaining doses to immunise the general public, he said.

“The National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) only gave approval to vaccinate Chinese workers in Sri Lanka with this vaccine,” Pathirana told reporters at the weekly cabinet press briefing today. The minister did not explain how long the health ministry intends to store the vials until WHO approves the jab.

Meanwhile, the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) issuing a statement today said, according to the NMRA report published on March 17, due to the insufficient data provided to make a decision about the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of the Sinopharm vaccine it was decided to not to approve the vaccine for emergency use in Sri Lanka under the present circumstances.

“Despite this clear recommendation of a properly-constituted independent expert advisory panel, we are concerned about reports that a newly reconstituted Board of the NMRA appears to have taken an unprecedented step to disregard the expert panel opinion and allowed the import of the said vaccine to be used in Sri Lankans [sic],” President of the AMS Doctor Lalantha Ranasinghe said in the statement.

“We also note with great anxiety and dismay of certain arbitrary appointments and removals being made to the Board of NMRA. We strongly believe such moves as an attempt to undermine the scientific basis of vaccine approval and hence it’s safety, efficacy and acceptance by the general public,” he added.

Dr Ranasinghe was referring to a controversial removal of NMRA board members over the vaccine issue.

Pathirana, meanwhile, claimed that WHO approval has delayed due to a translation issue.

“It is said some translation issue has occurred since all data documents are in Chinese. As soon as they translate it to English and give their approval, it will be possible to administer the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lankans as well,” he said.

Pathirana’s remark about translation issues could not be independently verified, but a perusal of WHO documents showed that the Chinese vaccine may be approved for emergency use in early April.

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The first consignment of the vaccine – part of a donation by the Chinese government – is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka tomorrow, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Smaraweera said.

“We will look for the most eligible community to receive the jab and will take necessary steps to vaccinate them,” Smaraweera told EconomyNext yesterday.

He noted, however, that NMRA approval for emergency use of the vaccine will need to be obtained, in addition to a number of other processes that must be completed, prior to administering it. (Colombo/Mar30/2021)

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