China’s Sinovac muscles into Hong Kong with virus vaccine

The city’s legislature approves the mainland manufacturer despite concerns about the lack of phase three trial data

Hong Kong plans to roll out China’s Sinovac vaccine later this month even though the results of phase three clinical trials have yet to be published.

A government advisory panel has recommended the emergency use of the vaccine, which is manufactured by the mainland pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, to combat Covid-19.

The decision was announced after the panel found that data showed an efficiency rate above 62% when two doses were administered 28 days apart.

Last month, Brazil’s Butantan Institute reported that Sinovac shots had a 50% efficacy rating after conducting phase three trials in the country.

“The company apparently has data of an increase in efficacy to 62.3%. Release it publicly. I do feel bad for our [Hong Kong] experts. A regulatory approval process is not meant to be a peer review. Journal peer reviewers don’t have to defend their decisions in public,” Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong, tweeted.

The facts:

  • Data from Sinovac has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal or made public.
  • This is usually a key requirement for regulatory approval in Hong Kong. 
  • The World Health Organization or WHO has yet to officially approve the vaccine.
  • In contrast, phase three trial results for the coronavirus vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
  • The first batch of one million Sinovac shots is expected to arrive in Hong Kong in the next 24 hours.
  • A  survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that under 30% of those polled regard the Sinovac vaccine as acceptable.
  • The city’s legislature has ordered 22.5 million doses from various pharmaceutical companies for the 7.5 million population.

What was said: “As to why we don’t wait for the WHO recommendation, this is about an emergency use of a vaccine that will hopefully help to protect the people of Hong Kong from Covid. We have received the data from Sinovac and [it] appeared to show that this vaccine is efficacious,” Wallace Lau, the Hong Kong government panel convenor, said at a media briefing, adding that the vaccine’s “efficacy is greater than its risks.”

How the vaccines rate: Pfizer-BioNTech, which must be stored at -70 Celsius, is 95% effective along with Modern, according to the WHO. Russia’s Sputnik jab has a 92% rating with Oxford-AstraZeneca coming in between 70% and 90%.

China Factor comment: The decision to rush through the Sinovac vaccine is yet another illustration that Hong Kong has become just another city inside China. Before Beijing effectively ripped up the “One Country, Two Systems” model by imposing a draconian national security law, Hong Kong had a high degree of autonomy. All that changed last summer. Since then, democracy activists have been arrested and imprisoned, the media has been muzzled and the city’s legislature has become little more than a rubber stamp for China’s ruling Communist Party government. Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy is unlikely to dispel the deep distrust of the CCP by ordinary Hong Kong people.