What we know about Asia Pacific's Covid-19 vaccines


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One year after the Covid-19 outbreak began, countries around the world are racing to secure and distribute vaccines to their citizens.

Some countries like the United States and United Kingdom have already begun vaccinating priority groups and the public. In Asia, only a handful of countries have reached this stage -- the biggest being China and India, which have the extensive manufacturing capabilities necessary to serve as regional vaccine production hubs.

Most other countries are still waiting on local regulators to approve vaccine candidates before they can roll out inoculation programs -- and in the meantime, are scrambling to sign deals with pharmaceutical companies to buy the coveted doses in advance.

Here's what we know about Covid-19 vaccines in Asia Pacific.

India, the world's biggest vaccine producer

India, second only to the US in the number of coronavirus cases worldwide, approved two vaccines for emergency use on January 3.

The two vaccines: The Serum Institute of India (SII) has been manufacturing the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Meanwhile, private Indian company Bharat Biotech and the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) jointly developed the Covaxin vaccine, and manufactured it locally.

Both vaccines will be administered in two doses. According to Indian Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the first phase will be free for the "most prioritized beneficiaries."

Safety data: Oxford-AstroZeneca have released interim Phase 3 trial data, showing an average vaccine efficacy of 70.4%. Bharat Biotech has not yet released any Phase 3 efficacy data, but said its vaccine showed "acceptable safety profile and high immune response" with no serious side effects.

The timeline: The Serum Institute of India is expecting to sign a formal deal with the Indian government "imminently." When it does, vaccinations could start in the "next seven to 10 days," said the company's CEO.

The first phase of the government's plan covers 300 million high-priority people, including health care workers and vulnerable citizens like the elderly and those with serious comorbidities. They're expected to receive two doses by the end of August.

Manufacturing hub: India produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold across the globe. As a manufacturing hub, India can churn out vaccines -- developed either by Western pharmaceutical companies or domestically -- faster and cheaper than most other countries.

But the emergency-use approval comes with restrictions on global distribution. SII is allowed to produce the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use within India, but the government has barred them for export until at least March or April -- meaning other countries may have to source their Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from other production sites.

Meanwhile, Russia has signed agreements with four Indian manufacturers to produce about 300 million doses of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine, according to Russian officials quoted by state media.

China sends its vaccines across Asia

China approved its first homegrown coronavirus vaccine for general public use on December 31.

The vaccines: The approved vaccine is developed and manufactured by state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. The company said its vaccine is 79.34% effective, citing interim analysis of Phase 3 clinical trials.

Aside from the approved Sinopharm vaccine, China has four vaccine candidates which have reached Phase 3 trials.

Safety data: A Sinopharm executive said the Phase 3 trials covered more than 60,000 people, but no detailed efficacy data has been released. An official with China's drug regulator, Zeng Yixin, said the vaccine's clinical trials are still ongoing, and its manufacturer will be required to submit follow-up data to authorities.

Among those who have already received the vaccine, fewer than 0.1% developed a light fever, and about two people per million developed "relative serious adverse reactions" such as allergies, according to Zeng.

The timeline: The country has already administered 4.5 million doses under its emergency use program, which included frontline workers such as health care workers and customs officers. The next step is to inoculate vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with underlying diseases, before vaccinating the general population.

The vaccine will be free of charge, with a goal to vaccinate 50 million people ahead of February's Lunar New Year celebrations.

Global manufacturing hub: Like India, China has the resources and infrastructure to mass produce vaccines and distribute doses across the region.

With ongoing trials in more than a dozen countries, China will be sending out hundreds of millions of doses in the coming months. Chinese leaders have promised a growing list of developing countries priority access to its successful vaccines.

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