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Kamis, 25 Maret 2021

Why is the West so sceptical of China's vaccines? - ABC News

Chinese coronavirus vaccines are now being used to inoculate millions of people in dozens of countries around the world.

According to Chinese state media, at the end of February China had exported vaccine doses to 28 countries as diverse as Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, UAE, Pakistan, Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Chile.

However, those countries tended to be less well-off and more desperate, with wealthy nations like Australia turning their noses up at China's jabs in favour of those coming out of the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

While China's failure to allow its trial results to be peer-reviewed has prompted valid concerns in health circles, is there more to the West's scepticism?

And how do the people who have no real choice feel about getting their shots from China?

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a lab while he was accompanied by local authorities in Beijing
President Xi Jinping has rejected accusations that China is engaging in "vaccine diplomacy" by distributing its coronavirus vaccine to other countries.(

AP via Xinhua

)

Why are scientists concerned?

Deakin University's chair in epidemiology, Catherine Bennett, told the ABC Australia still didn't have a lot of independently verified information about China's vaccines.

"We don't get to see the same transparency around the vaccine testing and follow-up", she said, adding that follow-up trials in the community were a "critical part of ensuring [that] once you take the vaccine out to the wider community, that you're not detecting those adverse events that you need to know about".

However, Professor Bennett said countries had to choose between using a vaccine that had not been independently reviewed to Western standards, and the risk of waiting until they could get another vaccine that had.

The vaccines have already been used in China, which should provide some reassurance, she added.

"While that might not be good enough for other regulatory bodies, like Australia's, to approve the vaccine here, it could well be that China knows it works, they have a sufficient supply and can provide it at a cheap enough rate," she said.

Are political imperatives affecting our perception of China's vaccines?

Graeme Smith, from ANU's Department of Pacific Affairs, said there was good reason to be sceptical of China's vaccine efforts, as there was more direct political pressure on the researchers there to come up with results.

"If you have a political imperative, if it's been mandated from the top that China will have an effective vaccine, then there's an incentive built into the system to rush things through," Dr Smith said.

"They are the same political pressures that are being imposed upon the process of coming up with a vaccine as we saw [at the beginning of China's epidemic response] when there was pressure to only report good news, and pressure to not report when you got an unfavourable outcome."

However, he added there was "no doubt an element of racism" in the negative coverage China's vaccines had been receiving.

"Add to that the anger about China being seen as the source of the pandemic but not willing to own up to it, and that colours a lot of the coverage. So I don't think they're necessarily getting a fair run in the media.

Sydney University China studies lecturer Minglu Chen said she believed there were multiple factors at play in the West's treatment and perception of China's vaccine efforts.

Dr Chen agreed there were valid concerns around the Chinese government's transparency, but said the political rivalry between Beijing and the West also played a part.

"I feel the current tension in the bilateral relationships is a major factor," she said. 

"When the tensions are so intense, it is very hard for any side involved to stay calm and take a more nuanced or subtle approach."

A lab researcher working on the Chinese vaccine for COVID-19
China was the first country to begin developing vaccines for the coronavirus. (

AP via Xinhua

)

She said it was valid to question the credibility of any political system, particularly one involving elements of censorship like China's.

"But I always say in my approach to China and Chinese politics that there is never a black and white picture. It should never be a one-sided story," she said.

Dr Chen said China's government faced the same issues as others in respect to convincing its own population that its vaccines were safe and effective.

China also had an opportunity to increase its influence globally by providing its vaccines to less wealthy countries, she added.

"If its vaccines are ineffective, then that will undermine China's image and reputation and not help it achieve its soft power objectives," she said.

What do we know about the efficacy of China's vaccines?

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said it was important to note that China's two major vaccines, produced by Sinopharm and Sinovac, varied greatly in their reported effectiveness.

When Sinopharm sought approval from the Chinese health authorities, it claimed its vaccine had 79 per cent efficacy.

Professor Toole said this was backed up by a trial in the UAE of more than 20,000 people, and another smaller trial in Bahrain.

Both trials found the Sinopharm vaccine had 86 per cent efficacy.

"Which is quite good," he said.

Pfizer says its shot is 95 per cent effective.

Professor Toole said very little was known about the other Chinese vaccine, produced by Sinovac.

He said a limited trial in Brazil found it had a 51 per cent efficacy rate, only just above the WHO's threshold of 50 per cent for approving new vaccines.

But that result may have been affected by the Brazilian coronavirus variants.

A Turkish study found the Sinovac shot to have an efficacy of 83.5 per cent, according to Reuters. 

A nurse administers a dose of a vaccine as a supervisor watches closely.
A trial of Sinovac's CoronaVac shot in Turkey found it to have an efficacy of more than 80 per cent.(

AP: Emrah Gurel

)

What about their safety?

The Turkish researchers said that no major side-effects were seen during their trial, apart from one person who had an allergic reaction.

Common adverse effects caused by the vaccine were fever, mild pain and slight fatigue, they said.

Professor Toole said the UAE trial found no more adverse effects in the group that took the Sinopharm shot than in the control group, and no severe adverse effects at all.

"I say Sinopharm's vaccine is probably good," he said.

"I wish they would publish their data [in a peer-reviewed journal], but I would believe the UAE.

"They have no reason to lie. It's a rich country and they can get any vaccine they want, so I would trust the UAE with the data."

Professor Toole said he believed different standards were being applied to China's vaccines to those produced in the West.

"The main suspicion among scientists about the Chinese vaccine is based on them not yet having published their data in a peer-reviewed journal — but neither has Johnson & Johnson, yet that got approved very quickly in the US," he said.

He said Pfizer had published its results in a peer-reviewed journal, as had the Russians with the Sputnik V vaccine.

He said AstraZeneca had published the results of its trials in the UK — which found only a 62 per cent efficacy — but not yet the results of its US trials, which the company said in a press release this week had a 79 per cent efficacy.

The World Health Organization is set to decide in the next few weeks whether it will accept China's offer of 10 million vaccine doses for the COVAX scheme, which is providing shots for low- and middle-income nations.

Why isn't Australia getting any of the Chinese vaccines?

When asked why Australia had not sought to acquire the coronavirus vaccines from China, the federal Department of Health provided a statement but did not directly mention China's vaccines.

It said Australia's investment in COVID-19 vaccines was being driven by "evidence-based scientific advice from medical experts".

"This decision is based on a number of factors, including that the safety, quality and effectiveness of the vaccine has been satisfactorily established for its intended use."

What do people who have little choice think about China's vaccines?

Carolina, a 26-year-old nurse at a private hospital in Chile's capital Santiago, was among the first in the South American country to receive the Sinovac vaccine, getting the first shot on February 3 and the second on March 3.

She said a smaller proportion of the total COVID cases were developing severe symptoms compared to last year, but it was too early to attribute that to the vaccine.

Many people in Chile are yet to be vaccinated or receive their second shot.

"We cannot expect the effect to be immediate or see a decrease in the number of cases in only a month," she said.

"The process is going to be long and slow."

She said people were hesitant about taking the Sinovac vaccine initially, but once it became available most people changed their tune.

"However, we only got a few of these vaccines, so people had no other choice than getting Sinovac.

"At this point, people care little about which vaccine to get. They're willing to get vaccinated with either, as long as they don't get severely ill."

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2021-03-25 19:06:44Z
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