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China Gets Its First mRNA Covid Vaccine Approval — in Indonesia

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A Chinese Covid-19 vaccine based on mRNA technology has received government approval for the primary time — but not in China.

The shot, developed by Walvax Biotechnology, Suzhou Abogen Biosciences and the Chinese military, was cleared this week by Indonesia for emergency use, handing China a long-sought victory in the event of a homegrown vaccine using mRNA at a politically sensitive moment for the ruling Communist Party.

First developed and approved within the West, mRNA vaccines have been embraced by countries everywhere in the world, including Indonesia, and are considered amongst probably the most effective vaccines that the world has to supply. But greater than two years into the pandemic, they usually are not yet available in China, which has relied on an increasingly draconian “zero Covid” approach to maintain cases and deaths from the virus low.

A two-dose regimen of the Chinese mRNA vaccine had an efficacy rate of 71.17 percent against infection from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, in keeping with Indonesia’s food and drug agency. Walvax has not published any details of the efficacy of its mRNA shot from its latest late-stage trial.

The mRNA vaccine has been cleared for people 18 and older. Indonesia has approved seven other Covid vaccines, including two made by Chinese corporations, in addition to BioNTech-Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Nearly 73 percent of the population has received at the very least two shots, in keeping with Indonesia’s health ministry.

China’s 1.4 billion people are actually one step closer to accessing an mRNA vaccine. While Beijing said early last 12 months that it could approve the mRNA shot made by BioNTech and Pfizer, it later said it could deal with its own vaccines.

“At present, China has fully mastered the important thing core technologies of mRNA vaccines,” Li Yunchun, chairman of Walvax, was quoted as saying in Chinese state media. He said China now had control of all the supply chain of raw materials to supply the vaccine, which is generally known as AWcorna.

By approving AWcorna, Indonesia was adding one other alternative to the country’s vaccine program, said Penny K. Lukito, the pinnacle of the country’s food and drug agency. The vaccine, which shall be made in Indonesia, also presents “a possibility for Indonesia to supply its own mRNA vaccine,” Ms. Lukito said.

The agency also said the vaccine was halal-certified, a vital factor for the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

China’s own drug agency didn’t reply to a request for comment concerning the approval process. Its first Covid vaccine, developed by Sinopharm, a state-owned pharmaceutical company, was not approved at home until several weeks after two other countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, cleared it for emergency use in December 2020.

AWcorna’s approval in Indonesia comes weeks before a very powerful event on China’s political calendar: the Communist Party’s twentieth congress.

Authorities across the country have been quick to impose mass testing campaigns and lock down areas — sometimes even in response to only a handful of cases — to attempt to tamp down on any outbreak before the congress. An estimated 36 cities and 207 million people in China are currently under some form of lockdown measure, in keeping with the Japanese bank Nomura.

Videos of residents in several Chinese cities protesting have emerged online in greater frequency as people grow more frustrated with the long and stringent lockdowns in neighborhoods and college campuses.

Some experts have said China’s “zero Covid” strategy — involving sealed borders, mass testing and snap lockdowns — has been essential partly due to inefficacy of China’s own vaccines, which use a century-old method for inoculation.

Dera Menra Sijabat and Zixu Wang contributed reporting.

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