China’s Sinovac Urges Third Dose of Its Low-Quality Vaccine

In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, a worker inspects syringes of a vaccine for COVID-19 produced by Sinovac at its factory in Beijing. China approved two new more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use Thursday, adding to its growing arsenal of shots: one from CanSino Biologics, and a second one …
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Sinovac Biotech, a Chinese company responsible for the development of one of the least-effective Chinese coronavirus vaccines currently in global circulation, suggested on Sunday that patients should receive a third “booster” dose of its product to improve its performance.

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has prioritized the distribution of Sinovac’s product, “Coronavac,” to allied nations. Countries that have heavily depended on it for mass vaccinations have seen a significant surge in coronavirus cases parallel to increasing vaccination rates. Among the two most prominent examples are the populations of Chile and Seychelles, whose governments have defended the Chinese product.

“Coronavac” tested at 50.38 efficacy in preventing coronavirus infections in clinical trials in Brazil prior to its global approval, just barely above the 50-percent threshold typically used to determine if a vaccine is functional. Sinovac initially attempted to claim the vaccine was 78-percent effective in Chinese-controlled trials prior to the release of results from trials by Brazil’s Butantan Institute. Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong later claimed the vaccine was “80-90 percent” effective in remarks to Chinese state media, but never clarified where he obtained that number.

In contrast, the vaccines approved by American firms Pfizer and Moderna tested at 95 percent and 94 percent efficacy rates, respectively, in clinical trials.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) approved the emergency use of Coronavac for people over 18 last week.

Yin, the CEO, claimed on Chinese state television Sunday a third dose of Coronavac “would increase antibody response tenfold in a week … but the large-scale adoption of a third dose still needs more studies,” the state-run propaganda newspaper Global Times reported. The third doses reportedly occurred three and six months after the second doses in different trial subjects.

“After completing the two shots, our body has already produced an immune memory. As for when the third shot will be needed, please give researchers more time to study it,” Yin reportedly said.

“There have been discussions over whether inoculated people will require a booster in the future,” the Global Times claimed. “Chinese health authorities said they will determine when to administer booster shots for [Chinese coronavirus] based on analysis of early vaccinated groups to combat the threat of mutant strains.”

The head of China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), Gao Fu, admitted publicly that Coronavac and other Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine products “don’t have very high protection rates” in April.

“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said at the time. “Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity. We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”

The only two mRNA technology vaccines against any disease currently approved for use anywhere in the world are the American products by Pfizer and Moderna. Gao later insisted that he meant only to encourage Chinese companies to pursue the technology. “Coronavac” relies on the use of inactivated cells of Chinese coronavirus to trigger an immune response, rather than using a “spike protein” and not introducing the virus into the body at all, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do.

Distrust of Chinese-made vaccines after years of corruption and low-quality scandals have suppressed China’s vaccination rate compared to other countries, particularly in Hong Kong, where the use of the Sinovac product in elderly people preceded several unexplained deaths. At the time, China had not approved the use of Coronavac in older citizens, leading any Hong Kong residents to ask why their China-controlled government had. The skepticism triggered campaigns to offer grocery store coupons and other perks to Hongkongers, with little success, prompting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to admit that even paying people to get vaccinated would have little effect. In response, last week, Hong Kong officials revealed a plan to ban unvaccinated people from restaurants, event venues, and other areas of public life as punishment.

Chinese officials have expressed similar concerns about low vaccination rates.

“If China continues with such a low vaccination rate, it will not keep up,” China’s top infectious disease expert, Zhong Nanshan, warned in March. “There’s a possibility that in the future, other countries will have [herd immunity] but China doesn’t.”

To increase the raw number of people vaccinated nationwide, China’s National Health Commission announced on Monday it would begin vaccinating children as young as three.

“China is expected to administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 70 percent of the targeted population by year end, an official from the National Health Commission confirmed,” according to the Global Times, “as the country continues to ramp up its inoculation drive to approve the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for those aged between 3 and 17 years old.”

The Communist Party claims it has administered 700 million doses of various Chinese coronavirus vaccines nationwide, most of which require two doses. China is a nation of about 1.4 billion people.

The Global Times noted that China has approved four coronavirus vaccines and three for emergency use, and it would soon expand their use to people ages three to 17. It did not specify which of the products children could now receive.

Sinovac claimed that “Coronavac” was safe in children beginning at age three in March.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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