The United Arab Emirates will start producing the Chinese Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine from April, helping the Gulf state accelerate plans to supply coronavirus jabs around the world.
Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, also known as Julphar, said on Sunday it had signed a contract with Abu Dhabi’s G42 to produce the vaccine, which was trialled in the UAE and has since driven the country’s successful vaccination campaign.
The UAE, which began administering the jab to healthcare professionals last September, became the first country to approve Sinopharm for general use in December, saying it was 86 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19.
The jab is by far the most widely used vaccine in the UAE’s nationwide effort that has helped the country deliver 81 doses per 100 people, second only to Israel among populous nations. Other vaccines being deployed include BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca and the Russian Sputnik V jab.
But experts have criticised opacity surrounding Sinopharm’s rollout, citing the lack of detailed explanations of efficacy results or peer-reviewed data.
The UAE earlier this month started to offer a third “booster” dose to those who fail to generate sufficient antibodies after two doses of the vaccine.
The announcement of domestic manufacturing comes as China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, visits the UAE as part of a regional tour, a potential signal of more strategic Chinese engagement in the Middle East.
Relations with China, a big customer for Gulf crude, have deepened beyond trade through the pandemic. The UAE supplied equipment to Wuhan during the early days of the crisis. Chinese companies have since then collaborated with the UAE on mass testing and vaccine rollouts.
The foreign minister said the two countries were now exploring means to work together to fight the pandemic in the Middle East and Africa, including establishing an international mechanism to ease people’s travel.
“We will work to expedite the bilateral production of the vaccines in a way that would contribute greatly to making sure the vaccines are available and affordable,” he told the UAE state media agency on Saturday.
Both the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the UAE’s commercial hub, have launched programmes to distribute vaccines around the world. They use their logistics hubs built on large airports and seaports.
G42, a private company based in Abu Dhabi with links to its ruling family, is the regional Sinopharm distributor. Previously the company said it would begin manufacturing the jab this year, with a view to supplying the region.
Julphar, founded in 1980 in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, is one of the largest pharmaceuticals manufacturers in the Middle East and Africa.
The firm has faced a turbulent few years since Saudi and other Gulf regulators in 2018 implemented sales bans on its products, saying they failed to meet regional standards. Julphar has since replaced key executives and implemented a restructuring plan.