The idea was that the Chinese coronavirus vaccines would give the country a geopolitical victory that would highlight its scientific prowess and generosity. Instead, however, they provoked a backlash in some countries.
Brazilian and Turkish officials are complaining that Chinese companies are delaying the delivery of vaccine supplies and doses. Dissemination of vaccine information has been slow and inconsistent. The few advertisements that come out suggest that the Chinese vaccines, while considered effective, do not stop the virus as well as those developed by the US pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.
In the Philippines, some lawmakers are criticizing the government’s decision to purchase a vaccine made by China’s Sinovac. Malaysian and Singaporean officials, who have ordered doses of Sinovac, had to reassure their citizens, saying they will only approve a vaccine if it is proven to be safe and effective.
“At the moment, I would not take any Chinese vaccine because the data is insufficient,” said Bilahari Kausikan, a former influential official at Singapore’s foreign ministry. He said he would only consider this possibility with “a valid report”.
At least 24 countries, almost all low- and middle-income, have signed agreements with Chinese vaccine companies because they offered them access at a time when richer countries had bought most of the doses produced by Pfizer and Moderna. But delays in the delivery of Chinese vaccines and the fact that they are less effective mean these countries may take longer to defeat the virus.
Beijing officials who hoped the vaccines would boost China’s global reputation are now on the defensive. State media have launched a disinformation campaign against U.S. vaccines, questioning the safety of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and promoting Chinese vaccines as a better alternative. He also distributed online videos shared by the anti-vaccine movement in the United States.
Liu Xin, a presenter for the public broadcaster CGTN, asked on Twitter why foreign media had not “investigated” the deaths of people in Germany who had received a vaccine – although scientists have already said the people in question were already seriously ill. Liu’s tweet was shared by Zhao Lijian, chief spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry.
George Cao, director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, questioned the safety of American vaccines because their developers used new techniques, rather than the traditional method followed by Chinese manufacturers.
China hoped its vaccines would prove that it has become a scientific and diplomatic powerhouse. The country remains on a par with the United States in terms of the number of vaccines approved for emergency use or that have end-stage clinical trials. Sinopharm, a state-owned vaccine maker, and Sinovac said together they could produce up to 2 billion doses this year, making them essential in the global fight against the coronavirus.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, their doses can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures and are easier to transport, features that make them attractive to developing countries. They are distributed as humanitarian aid in countries such as Pakistan and the Philippines.
But China’s campaign is fraught with doubts.
The most recent problem has been the delay in sending vaccines to countries like Brazil and Turkey.
In Turkey, the government initially promised that 10 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine would arrive in December. Only 3 million doses arrived and at the beginning of January, according to the Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca. He did not explain the reasons for the deficit, which drew criticism from opposition politicians. The remaining doses finally arrived on Monday, according to the official Anadolu news agency.
In a press release, China’s Foreign Ministry cited the needs of the country itself, where the coronavirus has reappeared.
“Domestic demand for vaccines is currently huge in China,” the statement said. “At the same time as we respond to domestic demand, we overcome difficulties, analyze and experiment with ways to develop international cooperation with other countries for the production of vaccines, especially cooperation of different types with developing countries. , offering support and assistance according to their needs. and to the extent of our abilities.
Sometimes sporadic outbreaks of the virus also hamper production. Sinovac said online Friday it was looking for people to work at a factory in the Beijing area where a coronavirus outbreak has excluded potential employees.
Countries like Turkey and Brazil are starting their vaccination programs with the Sinovac vaccine because Western companies are unable to provide vaccines so easily. But efforts in Brazil are also lagging behind. Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said China was not processing the documents needed to export raw materials to Brazil quickly enough.
Other vaccines are starting to fill the void. Brazil’s health ministry announced on Thursday (21) that a previously delayed shipment of 2 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive from India the next day.
The world was surprised by the revelation that the Sinovac vaccine may not be as effective as previously thought. Turkish officials initially said trials in the country showed a 91% efficacy rate for the vaccine. In Indonesia, the result was 68%. In Brazil, researchers have attributed a 78% efficacy to the Sinovac vaccine.
But on January 12, after including people with mild symptoms, scientists said the vaccine had an effectiveness rate of just over 50 percent. This level is just one bar above the threshold set by the World Health Organization for a vaccine to be considered effective.
At a press conference last week, Sinovac chief executive Yin Weidong reiterated that the vaccine is 100% effective in preventing severe cases of Covid-19. He said the lower efficacy rate was due to the trial being focused on healthcare professionals, who are more likely than the general population to contract Covid.
In Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that has ordered 7.5 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, authorities have not received any emergency distribution orders or data from the Chinese company.
“I’m still not sure if it’s because the company isn’t producing enough doses or if they don’t plan to send vaccines to Hong Kong at the moment,” said Lau Chak Sing, who heads a Hong Kong government advisory committee on vaccines. against Covid-19.
Disclosure of data has also been an issue in the Philippines, which have obtained 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. Opposition MK Risa Hontiveros said Rodrigo Duterte’s government “continues to push its preference for Chinese vaccines down the throats of the population, without approval for emergency use and with inconsistent data.”
Senator and opposition leader Leila de Lima, who is in prison, said she was outraged that the government was paying $ 61 a dose, more than double what Sinovac’s partner in Indonesia paid. The Presidential Palace said the price was exaggerated, but a nondisclosure agreement did not allow it to disclose the actual price.
Despite the uncertainties, many people may have little choice.
“I will get the vaccine,” said Kayihan Pala, a member of the Turkish Medical Council’s Covid-19 oversight committee. “I’m waiting my turn. There is no other option. “