Chinese Covid-19 vaccine efficacy ‘not high’, senior health official admits

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“The protection rates of existing vaccines are not high,” Gao Fu, director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a conference in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Saturday.

He listed two options to solve the problem: one is to increase the number of doses, or to adjust the dosage or the interval between injections; the other is to mix vaccines developed using different technologies.

Gao’s remarks are a rare public admission by the country’s top health official that the effectiveness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines is not ideal – and improvements are needed to strengthen protection.

China has positioned itself as a leader in the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, promoting and supplying its vaccines to countries around the world, including Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Turkey and the Brazil.

“More than 60 countries have approved the use of the Chinese vaccine. The safety and efficacy of the Chinese vaccine are widely recognized by various countries, ”Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a press conference in March.
However, the relatively low efficacy rate of Chinese vaccines could undermine credibility and undermine Beijing’s so-called vaccine diplomacy.

The two pharmaceutical companies that supply the majority of Chinese Covid-19 vaccines globally have not published comprehensive clinical trial data in medical journals on the effectiveness of their vaccines. But according to interim results announced by the companies, their effectiveness lags far behind the new type of vaccines developed in the West that use mRNA to trigger an immune response.

The CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac, a private company, was found to have an efficacy rate of only 50.4% in clinical trials in Brazil. Another trial in Turkey showed it to be 83.5% effective. State-owned Sinopharm said its two vaccines had efficacy rates of 79.4% and 72.5%.

In comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of 97% and 94%, respectively.

In March, the United Arab Emirates began offering a third dose of a Sinopharm vaccine to residents who failed to generate enough antibodies after two injections.

In that sense, Gao’s comments about the relatively low efficacy of Chinese vaccines only stated a well-known fact – but it was the first time that a senior Chinese official had publicly acknowledged it.

The Chinese CDC chief’s remarks also come as China aggressively ramps up its vaccination campaign at home. The country administered more than 160 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on Friday. It aims to vaccinate 40% of its 1.4 billion inhabitants by the end of June.

“What struck me most is that the suggestion of the relatively low efficacy rates of Chinese vaccines appears to be a deviation from what the Chinese state and social media have said. The official account describes Chinese vaccines as both safe and effective, ”said Yanzhong Huang, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, who posted Gao’s speech on Twitter over the weekend.

As Gao’s comments gained traction on social media and grabbed international headlines, Chinese censors quickly wiped out online discussions, and state media quickly published an interview with Gao to pick up on his comments.

Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, quoted Gao as saying that the information about his admission was “a complete misunderstanding.”

“The rates of protection for all vaccines around the world are sometimes high and sometimes low. How to improve their effectiveness is a question that needs to be examined by scientists around the world, ”said Gao.

Huang, the public health expert in China, said the Global Times’ swift repudiation suggested that Chinese authorities would not tolerate any challenge to their official account.

“Gao’s remarks were just an occasional aberration,” he said.

Reuters additional reports.

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