China’s vaccine rollout becomes mired in controversy

Data shows Sinovac jab is just 49% effective following mixed messages from Beijing’s leading disease control expert

China has always had a problem with data. Just like the economic numbers, the figures surrounding the strength of one of its Covid-19 vaccines might not add up.

Phase Three trials in Brazil have shown that the Sinovac Biotech jab is just 49% effective unless the gap between doses is extended. Even then it was just 62%.

According to a paper published by researchers at the weekend ahead of peer review, that would be below the 50% threshold set by World Health Organization.

The news appeared to be confirmed by Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He admitted on Saturday that the efficacy rate of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was low before retracting the statement.

“We will solve the issue that current vaccines don’t have very high protection rates. It’s now under consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” he said at a conference in the southwest city of Chengdu as reported by the Associated Press news agency.

The facts

  • More than 100 million people in China have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
  • It has also been widely exported to other nations around the world.
  • Vaccines such as BioN-Tech Pfizer and Moderna are more than 90% effective
  • AstraZeneca, despite the low risk of a rare blood clot disorder in younger people, is around 80% effective.

Data trap: Analysts and economists have been complaining for years about the veracity of China’s benchmark numbers. Now, that appears to have spread to its vaccination program.

Or has it? Gao tried to backtrack on his original statement in an interview with the state-run Global Times, insisting he was referring to “vaccines in the world” and “not just China.”

Highs and lows: “The global vaccine protection rate test data are both high and low. How to improve the protection rate of vaccines is a problem that global scientists [have] to consider,” Gao told the nationalistic tabloid.

Change of heart: He has a track record in that department. Gao had previously questioned whether the method used to produce the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was safe. He has since praised the benefits of mRNA-based jab, the Associated Press reported.

China Factor comment: Transparency has always been an issue in China’s pharmaceutical sector. Still, Beijing has bankrolled vaccines from Sinovac, Sinopharm, CanSino and Anhui Zhifei Longcom. But how effective they are is debatable, ranging from 50% to 79%, according to data released by Chinese companies that manufacturer them.