Senior official admits Chinese COVID-19 vaccines have low efficacy

Senior official admits Chinese COVID-19 vaccines have low efficacy

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In a rare admission of the weakness of the coronavirus vaccines developed in China, the country’s top disease control official said their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them up to get a boost.
Chinese vaccines “do not have very high rates of protection,” Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control, said at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses overseas while trying to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.

“It is now under formal review whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the vaccination process,” Gao said.

Officials at a press conference on Sunday did not respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official, Wang Huaqing, said the developers were working on mRNA-based vaccines.

A health worker shows off a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Amman, Jordan on January 13. (Khalil Mazraawi / AFP via Getty Images)

Gao did not respond to a phone call seeking further comment.

“The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial phase,” said Wang. He gave no timeline for possible use.

Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential vaccination, could improve efficacy. British researchers are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The coronavirus pandemic, which began in central China in late 2019, marks the first time the Chinese pharmaceutical industry has played a role in responding to a global health emergency.

Vaccines manufactured by Sinovac, a private company, and Sinopharm, a state-owned company, have made up the majority of Chinese vaccines distributed in dozens of countries including Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey.

A person receives a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday in Bangkok. (Sakchai Lalit / The Associated Press)

The effectiveness of a Sinovac vaccine in preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil, near the 50% threshold at which health experts believe a vaccine is useful. In comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be 97% effective.

Health experts say Chinese vaccines are unlikely to be sold in the United States, Western Europe and Japan due to the complexity of the approval process.

Sinovac spokesperson Liu Peicheng acknowledged that different levels of effectiveness were found, but said this could be due to the age of people in a study, the strain of the virus and other factors.

Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China.

Prior mRNA skepticism

Gao gave no details on possible strategy changes, but cited mRNA as a possibility.

“Everyone should consider the benefits that mRNA vaccines can bring to humanity,” said Gao. “We have to watch it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines. “

Gao has previously questioned the safety of mRNA vaccines. It was quoted by the state-run Xinhua News Agency as saying in December that it couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were first used on healthy people.

WATCH | Few people in China receive COVID-19 injections despite vaccine development:

China has developed four COVID-19 vaccines, but only four percent of its population have been vaccinated. The Chinese government continues to donate millions of doses of vaccines to the world. 1:59

Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs have also questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

As of April 2, some 34 million people in China had received the two doses required for Chinese vaccines and about 65 million had received one, according to Gao.

Liu said studies show protection “may be better” if the time between vaccinations is longer than the current 14 days, but give no indication that could become standard practice.

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