As rich countries stock up on COVID-19 vaccines, parts of the world may have to rely on vaccines developed by China in an attempt to beat the epidemic. The question: will they work?
There is no outward reason to believe they won’t, but China has a history of vaccine scandals, and its drugmakers have revealed little about their final human and human trials. more than a million emergency vaccinations they say have been carried out inside the country. already.
Rich countries have set aside about nine billion of the 12 billion mostly Western-developed vaccines expected to be produced next year, while COVAX, a global effort to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, does not has not reached its promised capacity of two billion doses. .
For countries that have not yet obtained a vaccine, China may be the only solution.
China has six candidates in the final stage of testing and is one of the few countries that can manufacture the vaccine on a large scale. Government officials have announced a capacity of one billion doses next year, with President Xi Jinping promising that Chinese vaccines will be a boon to the world.
The potential use of its vaccine by millions of people in other countries gives China the opportunity to both repair the damage to its reputation caused by an epidemic that has escaped its borders and to show the world that ‘it can be a major scientific actor.
Yet past scandals have damaged the confidence of its own citizens in its vaccines, with manufacturing and supply chain issues that cast doubt on its ability to truly be a savior.
“A question mark remains as to how China can ensure the delivery of reliable vaccines,” said Joy Zhang, a professor who studies ethics in emerging sciences at the University of Kent in Britain. She cited “China’s lack of transparency on scientific data and a troubled history with vaccine delivery.”
Bahrain last week became the second country to approve a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, joining the United Arab Emirates. Morocco plans to use Chinese vaccines in a mass vaccination campaign set to start 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 viewed with suspicion. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly cast doubt on the effectiveness of Chinese company Sinovac’s vaccine candidate without citing any evidence, and said Brazilians will not be used as “guinea pigs”.
Many experts praise China’s vaccine capabilities.
“The studies seem well done,” said Jamie Triccas, head of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Sydney’s medical school, referring to clinical trial results published in scientific journals. “I wouldn’t be too worried about it.”
China has been developing its vaccination programs for more than a decade. It has successfully produced large-scale vaccines for its own population, including measles and hepatitis vaccines, said Jin Dong-yan, professor of medicine at the University of Hong Kong.
“There is no major epidemic in China for any of these diseases,” he said. “This means that the vaccines are safe and effective.”
China has worked with the Gates Foundation and others to improve the quality of workmanship over the past decade. The World Health Organization has prequalified five Chinese non-COVID-19 vaccines, allowing United Nations agencies to purchase them for other countries.
Companies whose products have obtained prequalification include Sinovac and state-owned Sinopharm, two major developers of COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet the Wuhan Biologics Institute, a Sinopharm affiliate behind one of the COVID-19 candidates, was caught in a vaccine scandal in 2018.
Government inspectors have found that the company, based in the city where the coronavirus was first detected last year, had manufactured hundreds of thousands of ineffective doses of a combined vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus. and whooping cough due to equipment malfunction.
In the same year, Changsheng Biotechnology Co was reported to be tampering with data on a rabies vaccine.
In 2016, Chinese media revealed that two million doses of various children’s vaccines had been improperly stored and sold across the country for years.
Immunization rates fell after these scandals.
“All of my local Chinese friends are white collar workers, they are well off, and none of them will buy medicines made in China. It’s like that, ”said Ray Yip, former national director of the Gates Foundation in China. He said he was one of the few who was not afraid to buy pharmaceuticals made in China.
China revised its laws in 2017 and 2019 to tighten vaccine storage management and step up inspections and penalties for defective vaccines.
The country’s leading COVID-19 vaccine developers have published scientific findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals. But international experts wondered how China recruited volunteers and what kind of follow-up existed for possible side effects. Chinese companies and government officials have not released details.
Now, after the release of data on the efficacy of Western-made vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, experts are waiting to see the Chinese results. Regulators in the UAE, where a Sinopharm vaccine has been tested, said it appeared 86% effective based on provisional clinical trial data.
On Thursday, the Turkish government announced that Sinovac was 91.25% effective based on provisional 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 living in countries where the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, the country of origin of a vaccine does not matter.
“I intend to take it, the first one that will come if it goes well,” said Daniel Alves Santos, cook at a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. “And I hope God will help you.”