China’s top two COVID-19 vaccines, from Sinovac and Sinopharm, have been distributed to 95 countries, especially to those lower-income countries that can’t compete for Western-made vaccines.
What may have at first seemed like a lifeline may now prove otherwise. Several countries that relied heavily on China’s COVID vaccines are now seeing surges in cases, raising doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines.
The Seychelles, the island nation off Africa, had more than half of its population vaccinated by March — and 57% of all vaccines administered were from Sinopharm. But then in May, the Seychelles experienced a surprising surge in cases, made even more perplexing when health officials determined that over 30% of those infected had already received vaccines.
Bahrain and Mongolia also heavily relied on the Sinopharm vaccine. Both have highly vaccinated populations. And both have seen a rise in cases. However, these countries attribute the spike to other factors: Bahrain said over 90% of those hospitalized had not been vaccinated, and Mongolia blamed the end of the lockdown.
Santiago, the capital of Chile, has also experienced a sharp rise in cases and imposed another lockdown. Almost 60% of the country has been vaccinated, with most of the doses coming from China’s other primary vaccine, Sinovac’s CoronaVac.
These two Chinese vaccines utilize the older vaccine technology of using an inactivated virus. Both were granted emergency use authorization by the WHO within the past six weeks.
While Sinopharm claimed its vaccine had a 79% efficacy rate at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, the data from the Seychelles shows an efficacy rate closer to 50%. A similar efficacy rate for the Sinovac vaccine was determined by the WHO.
On June 7, Shao Yiming, a Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention expert, said the Chinese vaccines are designed to prevent severe illness, not all infections.