China picks UAE as regional production hub for Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine

The Sinopharm vaccine can be transported and stored at normal refrigerated temperatures.
The Sinopharm vaccine can be transported and stored at normal refrigerated temperatures.PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI (BLOOMBERG) - The United Arab Emirates will start producing China's Sinopharm vaccine next month in a deal that deepens Beijing's influence in the Arab Gulf, long a bastion of United States power.

Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries PSC said on Sunday (March 28) that it signed a contract to start manufacturing the vaccine from April. With the accord, the UAE will become the first Gulf state to set up a coronavirus vaccine production facility, boosting its efforts to become a supply hub to the Middle East and beyond.

The company, also known as Julphar, said it signed the agreement with Abu Dhabi's G42 Medications Trading. G42, which describes itself as an artificial intelligence and cloud computing firm, had helped roll out trials of the Sinopharm vaccine in the country.

The state-backed Sinopharm vaccine was approved in the UAE last year after local late-stage trials showed it was 86 per cent effective in preventing infections - the country has since overseen one of the world's fastest inoculation drives, with most people having received the Chinese vaccine.

The Sinopharm vaccine can be transported and stored at normal refrigerated temperatures, making it a candidate for vaccination programmes in the developing world. The company's annual production capacity for Covid-19 vaccines is set to reach three billion doses, its chairman Yu Qingming said this month, without giving a time frame.

While the UAE has approved vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca as well as Russia's Sputnik V, its inoculation programme hinged on Sinopharm given early availability and the potential to produce the shots locally - key to the UAE's aspirations of becoming a supply hub.

In November, Abu Dhabi launched the Hope Consortium, a logistics grouping with the capacity to distribute more than six billion vaccine doses. The consortium includes the emirate's Department of Health, Etihad Cargo, Abu Dhabi Ports Group, Rafed and SkyCell.

In neighbouring Dubai, companies including Emirates airline, ports operator DP World and Dubai Airports have also formed an alliance to move two billion doses of vaccines around the world this year, focusing on emerging markets.