Chinese vaccines are ready to fill the gap, but will they work?

Chinese vaccines are ready to fill the gap, but will they work?
Image source: AP

A worker inspects syringes against the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sinovac at his factory in Beijing.

As rich countries sell off stocks of COVID-19 vaccines, some parts of the world may have to rely on injections developed in China to try to beat the outbreak. Question: Will it work?

There’s no external reason to believe it won’t, but China has a history of vaccine scandals, and drug manufacturers have revealed little about their final human trials and more than a million emergency inoculations, they say, performed within already countries.

Wealthy countries have reserved about 9 billion of the 12 billion mostly Western-developed injections expected to be produced next year, while COVAX, a global effort to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, has not met its promised capacity of 2 billion doses.

For those countries that have not yet provided the vaccine, China may be the only solution.

China has six candidates in the final phase of testing and is one of the few nations that can produce 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 an opportunity to repair the damage to its reputation from the outbreak of an epidemic that has fled its borders and to show the world that it can be a major scientific player.

However, past scandals have damaged the confidence of its own citizens in its vaccines, and problems with production and the supply chain cast doubt on whether it can really be a savior.

“The question remains as to how China can ensure the delivery of reliable vaccines,” said Joy Zhang, a professor who studies the ethics of new sciences at the University of Kent in Britain. She quoted China’s “non-transparency of scientific data and problematic history of vaccine delivery.”

India Tv - Chinese vaccines are ready to fill the gap, but will they work?

Image source: AP

The worker is loading bottles that will be used in the production line for the vaccine against COVID-19 in the Chinese company Sinovac.

Bahrain became the second country to approve the Chinese vaccine COVID-19 last week, joining the United Arab Emirates. Morocco plans to use Chinese vaccines in a mass immunization campaign to begin this month. Chinese vaccines are also awaiting approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, while trials continue 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 the vaccine candidate of the Chinese company Sinovac, without citing any evidence, and said that Brazilians will not be used as “guinea pigs”.

Many experts praise the ability of the Chinese vaccine.

“The studies appear to be well done,” said Jamie Triccas, head of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Sydney School of Medicine, citing the results of clinical trials published in scientific journals. “I wouldn’t be overly worried about that.”

China has been building its immunization programs for more than ten years. It has produced successful vaccines on a large scale for its own population, including measles and hepatitis vaccination, said Jin Dong-yan, a professor of medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

“There are no major epidemics in China for any of these diseases,” he said. “That means 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 reclassified five non-COVID-19 Chinese vaccines, allowing UN agencies to purchase them for other countries.

India Tv - Chinese vaccines are ready to fill the gap, but will they work?

Image source: AP

COVID-19 vaccine syringes and models showing coronavirus are on display at the Sinovac factory in Beijing.

Among the companies whose products won pre-qualification are Sinovac and the state-owned Sinopharm, both leading manufacturers of vaccines against COVID-19.

Still, the Wuhan Institute for Biological Products, a subsidiary of Sinopharma that is behind one of the candidates for COVID-19, has been embroiled in a 2018 vaccine scandal.

Government inspectors found that the city-based company where the coronavirus was first detected last year made hundreds of thousands of ineffective doses of a combined vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis due to equipment failure.

In the same year, it was announced that Changsheng Biotechnology Co. falsified rabies vaccine data.

In 2016, Chinese media revealed that 2 million doses of various vaccines for children had been improperly stored and sold throughout the country for years.

The vaccination rate fell after those scandals.

“All my local Chinese friends, they are white-collar workers, they are in good condition and none of them will buy medicines made in China. It’s just like that, “said Ray Yip, a former director of the 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 in order to tighten the management of the vaccine warehouse and strengthen inspections and penalties for defective vaccines.

India Tv - Chinese vaccines are ready to fill the gap, but will they work?

Image source: AP

A worker examines syringes with the vaccine against COVID-19 manufactured by Sinovac.

Major manufacturers of vaccines against COVID-19 have published some scientific discoveries in peer-reviewed scientific journals. But international experts questioned how China recruited volunteers and what kind of follow-up possible side effects were. Chinese companies and government officials did not release details.

Now, after the publication of data on the effectiveness of Western vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, experts are waiting to see the Chinese results. Regulators in the UAE, where Sinopharm has been tested, said it appears to be 86% effective based on interim clinical trial data. On Thursday, the Turkish government announced that Sinovac was 91.25% in force compared to the provisional data.

Sinopharm did not respond to a request for comment on vaccine 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 remission, the origin of the vaccine does not matter.

“I intend to take it, the first one to come, if it goes right,” said Daniel Alves Santos, a chef at a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. “And I hope God helps.”

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