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A Chinese mRNA COVID vaccine gains its first approval

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Boxes of Walvax Biotechnology’s messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen displayed at a trade fair in Shanghai, China April 16, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS

By Stanley Widianto and Roxanne Liu

JAKARTA/BEIJING (Reuters) -Indonesia said it has granted emergency use approval to an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine developed by a Chinese company, becoming the first country, ahead of even China, to do so.

Indonesia’s food and drugs agency greenlighted the use of Walvax Biotechnology’s mRNA vaccine, which has been in development for more than two years and targets the original strain of the coronavirus.

However, Walvax has yet to publish efficacy readings for its vaccine, now known as AWcorna, from its large late-stage trial which would show how well it can reduce the risk of COVID cases and deaths from the disease.

China has several mRNA candidates in development but the Walvax vaccine is the only candidate in large late-stage clinical trials.

It was not immediately clear how widely the newly approved shot will be used in Indonesia, where more than 63% of its population is fully vaccinated. Health experts around the world also recommend using Omicron-targeting vaccines over original COVID vaccines.

Indonesia also uses mRNA COVID vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (NASDAQ:), but the AWcorna shot has a longer shelf life, remaining stable at 2-8 degrees Celsius for at least six months, according to its researchers.

That could make the vaccine ideal for countries with poor logistics in remote areas. Indonesia is an archipelago of thousands of islands.

Walvax co-developed the vaccine with Suzhou Abogen Biosciences and a Chinese military-backed institution.

Walvax and Suzhou Abogen are also separately working on their own mRNA candidates that target coronavirus variants.

For its part, China has not approved any Western-made COVID shots and its approved vaccine portfolio does not yet include vaccines that specifically target the Omicron variant.

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