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Opinion

Taking a closer look at Chinese vaccines

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

We’re afforded “a closer look at China’s vaccines” in a report June 10 by Jonathan Wolfe of The New York Times’ briefings team on the COVID-19 pandemic, with inputs from his colleague Sui-Lee Wee who covers China.

The World Health Organization has granted emergency use listing to two of China’s vaccines – one from the state-owned company Sinopharm and the other from Sinovac, a private firm based in Beijing.

The Chinese vaccines have come under scrutiny recently after cases rose in such places as Bahrain, Mongolia and the Seychelles – where large percentages of the population had been inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

The Sinopharm vaccine has a 78 percent efficacy rating while the Sinovac vaccine has a range of 50 to 78 percent, depending on where the clinical trial was done. One issue is that the WHO said it doesn’t have enough data on how the vaccines affect people above 60 years old.

The Phase 3 clinical trial for Sinopharm was done in the United Arab Emirates, where 90 percent of the vaccinees were middle-aged men. And it was very similar for Sinovac.

The leading exporter of coronavirus vaccines, China has delivered more than 250 million doses to 90-plus countries, many of them in Latin America and Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines.

Wolfe wrote: “China says that these vaccines still prevent severe illness and death which, by all accounts, they do. Even in the Seychelles, all the people I interviewed who had COVID after getting the Sinopharm vaccine said that they have had mild symptoms and were able to recover at home.

“But some experts have said that because the Chinese vaccines lag behind Western vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna in terms of efficacy, that means that countries that choose to use them will take longer to reach herd immunity.

“A couple of experts have done some modeling that shows that basically, if you use a vaccine with 90 percent efficacy against infection, that means you can reach herd immunity if 66 percent of the population is vaccinated.

“But if you use a lower efficacy vaccine, you need many more people to be vaccinated. So, for example, if the vaccine is 60 percent effective, then the portion of the population that needs to be vaccinated is 100 percent.

“That’s the real issue with the Chinese vaccines. They’re very useful for countries in preventing severe illness and death, but if you want to reopen the economy quickly, they would need to reassess whether using a Chinese vaccine is the best bet for them.

“What do developing countries that are receiving the Chinese vaccines think about them?

“At this point, a lot of them don’t have a choice. At the end of the day, China is a country that says it can make five billion doses a year. And with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the developed nations are still ahead in the queue.

“What do we know about how well they protect against the variants?

“Not much, actually. The SinoVac vaccine is 50 percent against the Gamma variant in Brazil. Sinopharm said that a small-scale study showed that it could protect against the Beta variant that first appeared in South Africa, but there was some reduction in the protection. But that was such a small lab study.”

G7 nations donating 1-B COVID shots

In its June 11 report on President Biden’s announcing a US donation of 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines, the NYT said vaccinating the world is a major topic at the G7 meeting that began Friday in Cornwall, England.

The wealthy democracies – the US, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy – have COVID-19 more or less under control within their borders but the coronavirus and its variants are still a serious threat in many parts of the globe.

Together, the G7 members are expected to donate one billion doses that are likely to go to Latin America and to parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The vaccines reportedly cost from $5 to $7 per dose.

Some of the G7 donations may come from the excess stock that the US and some European countries snapped up at the early stages of the pandemic that saw rich nations scrambling for supplies.

(FDP: Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the COVID-19 task force, testified in the Senate in February that the Sinovac vaccine that the administration was buying cost around P3,000 ($60) for two doses. That is way above the reported $7 current price of Pfizer.

(These prices were listed late last year by the health department: Novavax, P366 per 2 doses; AstraZeneca, P610; Covax Facility, P854; Sputnik V, P1,220; Pfizer, P2,379; Moderna, P3,904-P4,504; and Sinovac, P3,629.50. The prices included value-added tax and contingency for 10-percent “inflation.”

(Galvez was asked why Sinovac carried a price tag of more than P3,600 while Indonesia reportedly paid only the equivalent of P700. He said there were many factors but could not discuss them without violating the confidentiality clause in the contract.)

More Pfizer vax arrive from COVAX

In Manila, meanwhile, the second batch of 2,282,850 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrived June 10 through COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to the vaccines. The Philippines has received more than five million doses through it.

The first tranche of 193,050 Pfizer doses arrived May 10. Of the new delivery, 1.86 million will go to Manila, 210,600 to Cebu and 210,600 to Davao. In total, COVAX will provide 44 million doses, enough to vaccinate one in five Filipinos.

The US is the largest contributor to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment. In February, the US announced a total planned contribution of P195 billion ($4 billion) to the COVAX Facility.

US embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law joined Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Secretary Galvez, Chief of Presidential Protocol Robert Borje and other officials in the group that received the vaccines.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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