China approves first mRNA Covid-19 vaccine from local firm

Not having an mRNA vaccine was long considered a major lacuna for Beijing. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING – China approved its first messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for Covid-19, clearing a shot from a local drugmaker months after the world’s most populous nation abandoned pandemic curbs.

The mRNA vaccine, developed by CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, has been approved for emergency use, according to a statement from the company on Wednesday to the Hong Kong stock exchange, on which the group is listed.

The approval came years after mRNA vaccines became commonplace across the rest of the world, and more than three months after China became the last country to abandon strict Covid-19 measures. The easing of the curbs resulted in a massive infection wave that experts estimate caused at least hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The low immunisation rates of many high-risk people and the use of less effective shots made with traditional vaccine technology potentially made China’s wave deadlier.

Before the latest approval, China had been relying on non-mRNA vaccines developed by local state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm and the private firm Sinovac Biotech. These shots make use of inactivated viruses to impart immunity.

Such shots are less effective than mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response if a person is infected.

Not having an mRNA vaccine was long considered a major lacuna for Beijing.

The regulatory blessing for CSPC’s shot plugs that gap, while reinforcing the country’s reliance solely on home-grown vaccines to immunise its 1.4 billion population.

The Chinese government has not approved the mRNA shot co-developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, despite a slew of data and applications filed by local partner Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group. BLOOMBERG

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