A firm based in the United Arab Emirates will start commercial production of China’s Sinopharm vaccines in April, under a deal announced on Sunday, March 28.
Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries PSC, based in the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, signed the deal with Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence and cloud computing company Group 42 (G42), which handled Phase III late-stage clinical trials of a Sinopharm vaccine in the UAE and the wider region.
The announcement helps the UAE diversify its economy away from hydrocarbon production even more.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has just completed a two-day official visit to the UAE, saying Beijing wanted to work with the UAE on producing affordable COVID-19 vaccines.
G42 began Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Product, a unit of Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG), last July.
The UAE said the vaccine has 86% efficacy, while the Chinese developer claimed 79.34% efficacy based on an interim analysis of late-stage trials.
Some people in the UAE failed to develop antibodies after a second dose of the Sinopharm vaccine and were given a third dose, the health ministry said this month. It said the number was “minimal” compared to the number of vaccines administered.
“It is a really clear signal that the UAE is China’s most trusted partner in the Middle East and it creates linkages with other countries in the region,” said Jonathan Fulton, assistant professor at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University and a specialist in China-Gulf relations.
China was the UAE’s second-largest trading partner in 2019 after India, with $55.9 billion in total trade, more than double what it had with the US that year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
While the UAE has approved vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc as well as Russia’s Sputnik V, its inoculation program hinged on Sinopharm given early availability and the potential to produce the shots locally as part of UAE’s aspirations of becoming a supply hub.
The Sinopharm vaccine can be transported and stored at normal refrigerated temperatures, making it a candidate for the developing world.
The company’s annual production capacity for COVID-19 vaccines is set to reach 3 billion doses, its chairman Yu Qingming said earlier this month.
In November, Abu Dhabi launched the Hope Consortium, a logistics grouping with the capacity to distribute more than 6 billion vaccine doses. The consortium includes the emirate’s Department of Health, Etihad Cargo, Abu Dhabi Ports Group, Rafed, and SkyCell.
In Dubai, companies including Emirates airline, ports operator DP World, and Dubai Airports have also formed an alliance to move 2 billion doses of vaccines around the world this year, focusing on emerging markets.