How effective and useful are the Chinese Vaccines?
In less than a year since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, China has approved and begun to distribute its vaccines. While the United States approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine back in December 2020, China led the vaccine race by beginning the vaccine distribution in July 2020. These vaccines are leading the second Chinese inoculation and are a source of vaccination for many other countries.
Sinovac Biotech, a Chinese biopharmaceutical company, developed one of the approved vaccines. The vaccine works by using killed viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to COVID without risking a serious disease response. In comparison, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in the U.S. use mRNA, which means that the vaccine injects part of the coronavirus’ genetic code into the body, so it can make viral proteins––not the whole virus––which is enough to train the immune system to attack. One of Sinovac’s main advantages is that it can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines must be stored at -20C and -70C, respectively. The Sinovac vaccine, therefore, is more accessible in developing countries where achieving extremely cold temperatures is difficult.
Prominent medical research institutions in Sao Paulo, Brazil have recently carried out a large study of the Chinese vaccine. Researchers in Brazil initially said that the vaccine was 78% effective in their clinical trials but revised this number to 50.4% after including more data in their calculations in early January of 2021. Despite the rather low effective rates, Sinovac has already sold more than 300 million doses. More than half of these doses are purchased by middle to low-income countries trying to recuperate from failing to act in the early days of the pandemic. According to J. Stephen Morrison, the senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and director of its Global Health Policy Center, China strives to be a key source of COVID-19 vaccines for the less developed countries. Chinese companies signed agreements with at least 15 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, for early access to doses of the vaccine. In the coming months, Sinovac plans to produce 600 million doses for hundreds of millions of citizens still waiting for the vaccine. If approval of these vaccines were granted, Brazilian officials say that they can be produced at a rate of 1 million a day. On January 14, Brazil’s health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, told reporters that the federal government intended to purchase 100 million doses of the SinoVac vaccine. “This vaccine will save millions of people,” João Doria, the governor of São Paulo, said at a news conference. “Today is a day of hope.” Although the Chinese coronavirus vaccine is less effective than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, its cheap price allows developing countries to return to some level of normalcy.
– Abby Chen