China’s Covid-19 vaccines were rapidly developed, quickly rolled out around the world, and declared a “ global public good ” by President Xi Jinping to showcase his country’s benevolence.
Hundreds of millions of doses have been shipped abroad after being sold to 28 countries and given away for free to more than 60 poorer or strategically important places in an effort to close shortages around the world.
This vaccination diplomacy – branded by Beijing as the Health Silk Road – is an important part of the communist regime’s propaganda after the early cover-ups sparked the pandemic and amid growing global suspicions about the true origin of the virus.
Nevertheless, Singapore’s stocks have been in storage since February. Several countries, including Poland, South Korea and Vietnam, have rejected the vaccine offer due to the lack of reliable data on efficacy or trials. The pro-Chinese president of the Philippines declined his chance.
China’s Covid-19 Vaccines Declared a ‘Global Public Good’ by President Xi Jinping to Showcase His Country’s Good Will
Chile used a Chinese vaccine in one of the world’s fastest vaccination rides, but then saw a strange rise in the number of Covid cases. In the UAE, some recipients had to receive a third injection after two were found to provide insufficient immunity.
Other countries have been left furious with supply disruptions. Turkey’s president rebuked China’s foreign minister over shortages forcing the closure of vaccination sites, and now cases have skyrocketed.
In Mexico, delays have caused second doses to be postponed.
So are China’s attempts to exploit its desperate global desire for protection, using vaccines as a weapon to encourage countries to follow its line across Taiwan and accept technology companies like Huawei, suddenly backfire?
This weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) is weighing up the available data to decide whether to provide an emergency list of two major Chinese vaccines, a safety filing that accompanies regulatory agencies around the world.
The move stems from concerns about the lack of peer-reviewed studies and published data on clinical trials of the vaccines, unlike those developed by WHO-listed Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“We don’t have much clarity on this, which is very unusual,” said Peter English, a British expert on vaccines and communicable diseases, who is concerned about the wide range of results from countries using Chinese vaccines.
People wearing face masks walked past others in line for a Covid vaccine in Beijing last month
Chong Ja Ian, a professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, told the Washington Post that his government had accepted a Chinese vaccine so as not to offend Beijing, but could not approve its use given the limited data. Singapore has options, unlike some countries that have received [the Chinese vaccine] Sinovac, ”he added.
Two important Chinese vaccines are being sent around the world. The first to be rated by WHO is made by Sinopharm, a massive state-owned company that claimed to be 79 percent efficacy – impressive but significantly lower than jabs made by Western or Russian rivals.
Another from Sinovac, which has distributed more than 260 million doses worldwide, in studies ranged from 50.7 percent efficacy in Brazil – slightly above the 50 percent threshold considered acceptable for use – to more than 83 percent in Turkey. The results of a previous trial were even worse: The shot was estimated to be only 49.6 percent effective against symptomatic cases, a figure that dropped to 35 percent when asymptomatic Covid infections were included.
Studies in Chile found alarmingly low levels of protection after the first shot, with one dose reporting that a single dose was only three percent effective, while a second found it to be 16 percent effective, increasing to 67 percent after the second shot.
These numbers, along with the arrival of more virulent strains and a relaxation of the rules, could help explain why Chilean hospitals were inundated with patients when cases rose to record levels last month, despite an impressively rapid vaccine rollout. Chile has more than four in ten citizens vaccinated, not far behind the UK and Israeli figures – but the confirmed death rate from Covid is 16 times higher than the UK, with ten times more cases.
Syringes containing the Sinovac vaccine and coronavirus models at a Beijing plant
Such numbers are a devastating blow to China’s efforts to promote its pharmaceutical industry, plagued by scandals and low confidence within its own borders, as well as slowing global efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“This suggests that Chinese vaccine science is not as advanced as in other areas,” said Nikolai Petrovsky, a vaccine developer and professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.
Prof. Petrovsky said China relied largely on older technologies that use inactivated viruses mixed with aluminum-based compounds called adjuvants that boost the human immune system. This time-tested process is similar to how vaccines have been made for a century, but it is more difficult to ensure quality control and eliminate variability when inactivated viruses are mass-produced urgently, compared to modern genetic techniques used by the West.
Unless Chinese companies can improve standards and provide data to demonstrate consistent effectiveness, their vaccines will likely only be used by desperate countries where a vaccine can be attractive, especially if offered for free, said Prof. Petrovsky.
In a setback to Xi’s vaccination diplomacy, George Gao of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention admitted there was a “ problem ” that the efficacy of their vaccines was “ not high, ” before quickly rowing back, claiming “ a complete misunderstanding ‘, and his comments were censored.
Last week, the EU warned that China’s vaccination diplomacy is being backed by “disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine confidence in Western-made vaccines.” “Russia and China are using state-controlled media, proxy media channel networks and social media to achieve these goals.”