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Explained: China’s ‘PR’ Strategy To Vaccinate The World With Less Effective Covid-19 Jabs 

Bhaswati Guha Majumder

Jun 07, 2021, 06:55 PM | Updated 06:55 PM IST

The Covid outbreak in China.
The Covid outbreak in China.
  • Dr Zeng Yixin, who is the deputy head of the Chinese National Health Commission, said that China has been “striving to balance” domestic Covid-19 vaccine roll-outs and global supplies.
  • While world leaders and medical experts continue to raise fingers at China for its role in the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now trying to portray itself as the "Messiah" of the developing countries by increasing the domestic production of Chinese Covid-19 vaccine to boost foreign supply.

    A senior Chinese official, Dr Zeng Yixin, who is the deputy head of the National Health Commission said: "The number one priority for the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is to expand and accelerate mass vaccination, which rests on boosting vaccine production and promoting equitable access”.

    "The country is now scaling up production to ensure the smooth progress of its inoculation campaigns, while also exhausting all means to offer assistance to the international community, particularly those in the developing world," he added, as reported by The Straits Times.

    As of now, China has supplied over 350 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccines overseas.

    It has granted conditional market approval to four self-developed vaccines and granted authorisation for emergency use of three jabs.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) listed the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use in May, and later in early June, the agency validated the Sinovac-CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine for the same.

    This approval allows the two vaccines to be included in Covax, which is a global vaccine-sharing platform.

    As per the senior official Zeng, China has been “striving to balance” domestic Covid-19 vaccine roll-outs and global supplies, while the stable epidemic situation in the country has created favourable conditions to achieve the balance.

    He also added that China is dedicated to sustaining the idea of "a community with a shared future for mankind," as well as keeping its vow from May of last year that all vaccines it produces will be for the public good.

    Zeng said: "The pandemic has again underlined the significance of and the wisdom embedded in the vision…[and] No country can conquer the virus or stay safe on its own”.

    “Global unity and coordination must be promoted," he said, adding that "that's why we have been acting with a global mindset and in an altruistic manner while rejecting narrow-minded nationalism and unfounded suspicion".

    The official also noted that due to coordinated efforts by manufacturers and governments, China's capacity expansion had surpassed the expectations in terms of pace and magnitude.

    What Data Shows

    Zeng took the example of a town in Brazil with a population of 46,000.

    Almost 90 per cent of the residents aged 18 or above received Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines.

    The town that vaccinated its residents reported a 95 per cent reduction in mortality and an 80 per cent reduction in symptomatic infections when compared to neighbouring towns that had implemented the same disease management methods but had not inoculated a major proportion of the population.

    But this is not enough to claim that Chinese vaccines could be the game-changer.

    Israel fought against the Covid -19 using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

    The middle-east country not only successfully vaccinated the majority of the population but also noticed a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases.

    In terms of the use of Chinese vaccines, Chile, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uruguay and Bahrain have used them.

    All these countries have exceptionally high rates of vaccination.

    However, the outbreaks they are seeing are not due to the virus sweeping through a mainly unvaccinated populace.

    Bahrain, which began its vaccination drive with Sinopharm jabs, has started to give booster shots to vulnerable individuals the vaccine made by American company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

    Bahrain official also stated that 90 per cent of people hospitalised for the disease in his country right now are unvaccinated.

    Studies showed that Chinese vaccines provide some protection against Covid-19.

    For example, despite the increased number of cases, Chile and the UAE haven’t witnessed a significant increase in daily mortality linked to Covid-19, however, Uruguay and Bahrain haven’t been so fortunate.

    The disparity between Israel and these four countries could be due to Pfizer and Moderna outperforming to an almost unthinkable degree rather than Sinopharm and Sinovac underperforming.

    But the studies and the concerning limitations cannot be denied.

    A study published on 26 May by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed 78 per cent efficacy against symptomatic disease for one of two versions of the Sinopharm vaccine.

    But the cohort was primarily made up of healthy young men—the participants’ average age was 36—and the placebo group had only two occurrences of severe illness, which was statistically insufficient.

    According to another study in Serbia, three months after receiving the first of two vaccine shots, 29 per cent of 150 subjects were found to have no antibodies against the virus.

    The respondents who took part in the Serbian study were, on average, over 65 years old.

    In Chile, a study of more than 10 million people found that Sinovac was a mere 16 per cent effective after one shot against symptomatic infections.

    Rafael Araos, a Chilean adviser to the sub-secretary of public health, said, in terms of the Sinovac vaccine, while the efficiency of 80 per cent in preventing death is impressive, “naturally, there is a disappointment”.

    “It is always expected that real-life results come in lower than the result of a clinical study,” he added.

    But in contrast, one shot of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is found to be 82 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and second doses are to be 94 per cent effective.

    Now, when the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.617 or the Delta Variant began to appear in several countries, healthcare professionals are concerned about the efficacy of vaccines against this mutated version of the virus.

    Recent studies revealed that promising Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine provides less protection against this variant.

    No one knows what kind of protection Sinopharm or Sinovac will supply if B.1.617 proves to be such a challenge for Pfizer-BioNTech.

    But instead of providing any clarity on this matter, China is continuously promoting its subpar vaccines all over the world.

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