Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the progress of scientific research into a coronavirus vaccine and antibody during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, China’s capital, on March 2, 2020.
Ju Peng | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
With rich countries picking up supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, some parts of the world may be relying on Chinese-developed shots to try to capture the outbreak. Question: Will they work?
There is no external reason to believe they do not want to, but China has a history of vaccine scandals and its drug manufacturers have revealed little about their final trials with humans and the more than 1 million emergency vaccinations they say have been carried out inside land already.
Wealthy nations have reserved about $ 9 billion of the $ 12 billion, mostly Western-developed shoots expected to be produced next year, while COVAX, a global effort to ensure equal access to Covid-19 vaccines. has signed his promised capacity of 2 billion doses.
For those countries that have not yet secured a vaccine, China may be the only solution.
China has six candidates in the final phase of the trials and is one of the few countries that can produce vaccine on a large scale. Government officials have announced a capacity of 1 billion doses next year, with President Xi Jinping promising that China’s vaccines will be a blessing to the world.
The potential use of its vaccine by millions of people in other countries provides China with an opportunity both to repair the damage to its reputation from an outbreak that escaped its borders and to show the world that it can be a major scientific player.
Yet past scandals have ruined the confidence of its own citizens in its vaccines, as problems with manufacturing and the supply chain raise doubts as to whether it can really be a savior.
“There is still a question mark over how China can ensure the delivery of reliable vaccines,” said Joy Zhang, a professor studying ethics in new science at the University of Kent in the UK. She cited China’s “non-transparency of scientific data and a troubled history of vaccine delivery.”
Bahrain last week became the second country to approve a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine and join the United Arab Emirates. Morocco plans to use Chinese vaccines in a mass vaccination campaign scheduled to launch this month. Chinese vaccines are also awaiting approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, while testing continues in more than a dozen countries, including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.
In some countries, Chinese vaccines are seen with suspicion. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the Chinese company Sinovacs vaccine candidate without mentioning any evidence and said Brazilians will not be used as “guinea pigs.”
Many experts praise China’s vaccine capability.
“The studies appear to be well-conducted,” said Jamie Triccas, director of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Sydney’s medical school, referring to results from clinical trials published in scientific journals. “I would not be too worried about that.”
China has been building up its vaccination programs for more than a decade. It has produced successful large-scale vaccines for its own population, including vaccinations against measles and hepatitis, said Jin Dong-yan, a medical professor at the University of Hong Kong.
“There are no major outbreaks in China for any of these diseases,” he said. “That means the vaccines are safe and effective.”
China has worked with the Gates Foundation and others to improve production quality over the past decade. The World Health Organization has prequalified five non-Covid-19 Chinese vaccines, allowing UN agencies to purchase them for other countries.
The companies whose products won pre-qualification include Sinovac and state-owned Sinopharm, both leading developers of Covid-19 vaccines.
Still, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, a Sinopharm subsidiary behind one of the Covid-19 candidates, was caught in a vaccination scandal in 2018.
Government inspectors found that the company, based in the city where coronavirus was first discovered last year, had made hundreds of thousands of ineffective doses of a combination vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis due to a malfunction in the equipment.
That same year, it was reported that Changsheng Biotechnology Co. falsified data on a rabies vaccine.
In 2016, Chinese media revealed that 2 million doses of various vaccines for children had been stored and sold incorrectly across the country for years.
The vaccination rate dropped after these scandals.
“All my local Chinese friends, they are white-necked, they are well, and none of them want to buy medicine made in China. That’s just the way it is,” said Ray Yip, former country director for Gates. Foundation in China. He said he is one of the few who does not mind buying Chinese-made drugs.
China revised its laws in 2017 and 2019 to tighten vaccine storage management and intensify inspections and sanctions for defective vaccines.
The country’s largest Covid-19 vaccine developers have published some scientific findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals. But international experts questioned how China recruited volunteers and what kind of tracking was available for possible side effects. Chinese companies and officials have not released details.
Now, after the release of data on the effectiveness of the Western-made vaccines developed by Pfizer and Modernexperts are waiting to see the Chinese results. Regulators in the UAE, where a Sinopharm vaccine was tested, have said it appeared 86% effective based on preliminary clinical trials. On Thursday, the Turkish government announced it Sinovac is 91.25% effective from preliminary data.
Sinopharm did not respond to a request for comment on the vaccine’s efficacy data. Sinovac and CanSino, another Chinese vaccine company, did not respond to interview requests.
For some people in countries where the pandemic shows no signs of easing, the country of origin of a vaccine does not matter.
“I intend to take it, the first thing that comes if it goes right,” said Daniel Alves Santos, a chef at a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. “And I hope God helps.”