Chinese vaccine jabs lack punch in virus fight

Questions remain about the effectiveness of Sinopharm and CoronaVac as Beijing sticks to a zero-Covid-19 policy

China has rolled out a massive Cover-19 vaccination program.

More than one billion people, or close to 80% of the population, have received two shots of the country’s homegrown CoronaVac or Sinopharm.

A further 1.5 billion vaccine doses have been exported to 106 nations, China’s International Development Cooperation Agency reported this week.

Yet despite the mind-blowing numbers, there appears to be a major problem. Do the vaccines work?

“China’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm vaccines account for almost half of the 7.3 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses delivered globally and have been enormously important in fighting the pandemic, particularly in less wealthy nations,” Nature, the weekly scientific journal, reported earlier this month.

“But as the doses mount, so have the data, with studies suggesting that the immunity from two of either vaccine wanes rapidly, and the protection offered to older people is limited,” it added.

Needle points:

What was said: “Since October 17, there have been multiple scattered local outbreaks in China, and they’re expanding rapidly,” Mi Feng, a spokesman at the National Health Commission, told a media briefing at the weekend.

Some studies have found that China’s inactivated vaccines initially generate lower levels of virus-blocking antibodies.

Nature, the weekly scientific journal

Delve deeper: China has closed its borders and adopted a zero-Covid-19 policy to stamp out infections. But a surge in cases during the past two weeks has resulted in localized lockdowns. Up to 11 provinces, mainly in the north of the country, have already been hit.

Figure it out: If you believe the overall numbers, Beijing’s policy has paid off. China’s caseload of latest outbreaks pales in comparison with its neighbors, major European nations and the United States.

Data stream: Yet nagging doubts still remain about the effectiveness of Sinopharm and CoronaVac. Reams of data have shown that the Chinese vaccines lag behind big Western pharma products such Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna. 

Waning immunity:  “Some studies have found that compared with vaccines made using other technologies, China’s inactivated vaccines initially generate lower levels of ‘neutralizing’ or virus-blocking antibodies – considered a proxy for protection – and that these levels drop quickly over time,” Nature reported on October 14.

Playing the percentages: “One study of 185 healthcare workers in Thailand, not yet peer-reviewed, found that 60% had high levels of neutralizing antibodies one month after receiving a second dose of CoronaVac, compared with 86% of those who had received two shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine,” the scientific journal said.

Vaccine drive: “What we are doing now [is] to develop more vaccines and to research on how to boost immunity,” Zhong Nanshan, the leading Chinese respiratory expert, said as reported by state-run Global Times on October 3.

China Factor comment: CoronaVac and Sinopharm have played a role in combating Covid-19. But there is growing evidence that Chinese vaccines lack the punch of jabs from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.