So what does China say about these vaccines and their effectiveness?
They continue to trumpet the fact that these vaccines still prevent serious illness and death. Even in the Seychelles, all the people I interviewed Covid with after receiving the Synopharm vaccine said that they had mild symptoms and that they were able to recover at home. But experts have told me that because the Chinese vaccines lag behind other Western vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna in terms of effectiveness, it really means that countries that choose to use them will take longer to achieve herd immunity.
Why is this?
Some experts have done some modeling that shows that if you use a vaccine with an effectiveness of 90 percent against infection, it means that you can achieve herd immunity if 66 percent of the population is vaccinated. But if you use a vaccine with a lower effectiveness, you need to vaccinate a lot more people. For example, if the vaccine is 60 percent effective, the proportion of the population that needs to be vaccinated is 100 percent. This is the real problem with the Chinese vaccines. It is very useful for countries to prevent serious diseases and deaths, but if you want to reopen the economy quickly, I think they will have to reconsider whether using a Chinese vaccine is the best option for them.
What do developing countries that receive Chinese vaccines think about it?
I think at this point many of them have no choice. At the end of the day, China is a country that says it can take five billion doses a year. And with the Pfizer and Modern vaccines, the developed countries are still at the forefront. [Read our next item about Biden’s announcement to donate 500 million Pfizer doses to 100 countries.]
What do we know about how well they protect against the variants?
Not much. The SinoVac vaccine is 50 percent against the Gamma variant in Brazil. Sinopharm said that a small-scale study had shown that it could protect against the Beta variant, which first appeared in South Africa, but that the protection to that effect diminished. But it was such a small lab study. The experts I spoke to basically think that the weaker vaccines will not protect as well against the variants as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But we just do not know it yet.
What did the effects of vaccines look like in China?
Initially, it was very slow. In China, as in many Asian countries, many people did not have the need to get vaccinated so quickly because the outbreak was largely eliminated. China, too, has a history of vaccine quality scandals, so people were quite skeptical.