The World Health Organization (WHO), on May 7, issued its listing of emergency use for the SINOPHARM vaccine. The vaccine is the first to win WHO approval, developed by a non-western country (China). The SINOPHARM vaccine, also named BBIBP-CorV, is developed by the Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Product. The approval comes four months after China’s National Medical Products Administration approved it on December 31, 2020.

The vaccine is an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine. Inactivated Vaccine uses heat, chemicals, and radiation to kill the life-threatening virus. Once inoculated, the vaccine teaches the body’s immune system to generate antigen against SARS-CoV-2. The antigens that develop subsequently attach themselves to the spike-proteins of the virus and incapacitate the surface of the virus. COVAXIN, an indigenous vaccine in India produced by Bharat Biotech, entails a similar mechanism.

The vaccine generated by SINOPHARM, China’s state-owned drugmaker, is one of the two primary coronavirus vaccines administered to millions of people in the country. WHO emergency listing for a vaccine is an indication that a product is effective and safe to use. WHO approval to BBIBP-CorV allows the vaccine to be included in COVAX, an UN-backed global programme that delivers the vaccine to countries, mainly poor, which hit supply problems.

A few months before WHO approved China’s SINOPHARM vaccine, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, Tao Lin, uploaded a digital copy of the vaccine’s manual listing 73 systemic and local side effects. As a result, Tao Lin tagged the vaccine as “the most unsafe vaccine in the world”. However, the censors took down the article reporting this two days later, with Tao saying, “it was a joke”.

In a report dated April 11 by the Associated Press, the China Centers for Disease Control director, Gao Fu, said that the Chinese vaccines “do not have high protection rates” and are considering mixing the vaccines to get a boost. According to a Reuters report dated May 6, one day before WHO approved the vaccine to be included in the COVAX global vaccine programme, a WHO spokesperson cited WHO experts were showing “shallow confidence” in data submitted by SINOPHARM. The data showed an “evidence gap” in terms of the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.

WHO approving Chinese vaccine, the first manufactured by a non-western country, give rise to a mist of controversy surrounding the vaccine. Even though Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN showcases similar efficacy and uses a similar design, WHO giving a green signal to the SINOPHARM vaccine, raises some questions.

The European Medical Agency has not yet reviewed the vaccine for use in the European Union. There is no official word from the Indian government on using the BBIBP-CorV vaccine as the country seeks to push its vaccine demands following an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases.