China, the birthplace of COVID-19, has been quick to develop a series of vaccines that it says can fight the coronavirus. Amid the rubble of the pandemic, as the United States and European nations have struggled to vaccinate their own populations, China sensed an opportunity and triumphantly began shipping its homegrown vaccines around the world. The target market was low- and middle-income countries well below the current vaccination hierarchy. Beijing often says that it does not impose political conditions on the delivery of vaccines, although the doses seem to have a drawback, if not now, then later. Paraguay, for example, said that it had recently been offered Chinese vaccines on the condition that it sever ties with Taiwan. But beyond the ethics of vaccine diplomacy, China’s vaccines face a much bigger question: do they really work?
It seems too late in the game to ask that, but China won’t say, not really anyway, as its major vaccine producers refuse to release data on their late-phase clinical trials that would allow others to evaluate their efficacy and safety. . There are indications that the vaccines made in China – from the state-owned Sinopharm and the private Sinovac, among others – are not what he imagined. Over the weekend, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive for COVID-19 despite receiving the first of a two-dose Chinese vaccine.
Of course, there are reasonable alternative explanations for why this happened, in addition to the vaccine being nonsense, such as the Pakistani Health Ministry’s claim that Khan became ill during the period of time before the vaccine boosted immunity for protect yourself against it. But it’s not a great look. The UAE is currently testing the administration of a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine after it failed to elicit a sufficient antibody response in some cases. Results from trials in other developing nations have been mixed, not exactly increasing confidence in vaccines produced in China.
“Vaccine manufacturers generally publish details of their phase 3 clinical trials in peer-reviewed journals before the vaccines gain regulatory approval. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna published theirs in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, ”notes the Washington Post. “Sinopharm and Sinovac have self-reported some key results, but have not published the underlying data in a journal, which would require investigation by outside experts. However, the Chinese government says that more than 60 countries have approved at least one of China’s coronavirus vaccines.
Beijing has been cautious about releasing data, although why it would be unclear, other than the obvious. “Out of fear of embarrassment, Chinese vaccine manufacturers are selecting the data rather than publishing the full results,” posited a Foreign Affairs article in February. It seems like a bad time to save face. Given China’s less-than-stellar regulatory record on, well, almost everything, accepting Beijing’s vaccine guarantees is a huge leap of faith.