US-Zimbabwean ally Tendai Biti Queries Acquisition Of ‘Unapproved’ Chinese Vaccine

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Ttendai Biti

HARARE East MP and MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti has raised concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the Sinopharm vaccine donated to the country by the Chinese government on Monday.

Biti speaking on a point of privilege as Parliament resumed business Tuesday queried several issues regarding the vaccine highlighting that it was yet to be approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The former Finance minister told Parliament Speaker Jacob Mudenda that government was also yet to present a comprehensive roll-out plan for the vaccination process.

“As it is, the national roll-out plan is absent. There is no evidence that the Chinese vaccine has been approved by WHO. Yes, we believe the best solution to control the disease is through vaccination. The Health minister should issue a ministerial statement to the National Assembly.

“Our main worry is that why did government choose to get Sinopharm from China for an unapproved vaccine with a low efficacy rate of 85% or less leaving out such vaccines as Pfizer which has an efficacy rate of around 95%. We do not want approval from leadership, but scientists have to lead in this process,” said Biti.

According to the legislator, the distribution plan and personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other logistical matters regarding storage facilities were not yet complete.

Vaccination will begin soon starting with health workers in three phases, a government statement revealed.

Biti demanded answers on why Finance minister Mthuli Ncube failed to budget for vaccines during the 2021 national budget.

“There was no cent budgeted for drugs last year. What happened to the COVAX programme by WHO and AU where other countries are purchasing approved vaccines. As Parliament, we want assurance of application of Covid-19 vaccines from reputable health bodies such as WHO’s Covax programme,” said Biti.

Mudenda agreed with Biti saying observations made were pertinent.

“Thank you very much Honourable Biti for your pertinent observations made. I was briefed by Health and Child Care Parliamentary committee chairperson Honourable Ruth Labode who indicated to me that conversations around the vaccine issue had been made between her and VP and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga.

“Yes, indeed a Ministerial statement will be tabled in the National Assembly,” the Speaker said.

Bloomberg News recently reported that Sinopharm vaccine had not been approved by WHO.

“The global body had only approved one vaccine, the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot, for use, according to a document on the status of various Covid-19 vaccines in the WHO’s regulatory process.

“Chinese vaccine makers Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. are further along in the WHO approval process, the document shows, though their shots are not among the nearly 2 billion already procured by Covax.”

Meanwhile, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) reported the Sinopharm had a favourable profile hence the issuing of an emergency use authorisation for the vaccines.

On Monday, China’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun dismissed any doubts about the Sinopharm vaccine.

“I am not a scientist, so I do not make unprofessional comments. But I would like to say: the safety, the Chinese vaccine is already proven,” Guo told VOA.

Elopy Nimele Sibanda, professor of immunology at the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences, is optimistic the Sinopharm vaccine will help Zimbabwe following the recent spike of Covid-19 cases in the country.

“Any vaccine is better than no vaccine,” Sibanda said.

“That’s the bottom line. In terms of efficacy, we will only know once it has been used. We do not know until it has been tested in our own setting.”