Chinese vaccine only '79% effective' against COVID-19, Beijing admits

Al-Mashareq and AFP

Health worker Giorgio Franyuti receives Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in Mexico City December 28. [Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP]

Health worker Giorgio Franyuti receives Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in Mexico City December 28. [Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP]

Phase 3 trials of a Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine found it was 79% effective, the Chinese pharma giant said Wednesday (December 30), lower than rival jabs developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

China, where the pandemic first emerged, has been racing against the West to develop its own COVID-19 vaccines, with five already in large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials but none officially approved yet.

The December 30 announcement was the first data released regarding the efficacy of a Chinese vaccine candidate.

"The protective effect of the (Sinopharm CNBG Beijing) vaccine against COVID-19 is 79.34%," said the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a Sinopharm subsidiary that has been developing a vaccine with China National Biotec Group (CNBG).

Sinopharm has applied to China's drug regulator for approval of the inactivated coronavirus vaccine, the statement said, referring to a type of inoculation using particles of the pathogen.

But the Chinese regime has struggled to gain international trust for its vaccine candidates, hindered by a lack of transparency on test results.

It has been slow to complete Phase 3 trials, which had to be conducted abroad.

Meanwhile, Western countries have surged ahead with vaccine rollouts and approvals.

Hundreds of millions of doses have been booked from frontrunner candidates by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95% and 94% efficacy rates, respectively.

Lack of transparency undermining trust

The lack of transparency from Chinese health officials and vaccine makers has undermined trust worldwide in China's COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

It undercuts the Chinese regime's attempts to repair its battered reputation with a last-ditch push for a vaccine after it plunged the world into catastrophe by initially suppressing news of the pandemic.

A poll conducted December 13, for instance, found that 50% of respondents in Brazil said they would not take a vaccine made in China, against 47% who would.

This was even before news of the vaccine's relatively low efficacy rate.

Unlike the case for vaccines being developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, Chinese drug-makers have published little information about the safety or efficacy of their vaccines.

As orders and faith in Western vaccines increase, the Chinese regime -- adoping a tactic similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent publicity push for his country's experimental vaccine Sputnik V -- is stepping in to offer its homegrown jabs to poorer countries.

But the largesse is not entirely altruistic, with Beijing hoping for a long-term diplomatic return.

"There is no doubt China is practising vaccine diplomacy in an effort to repair its tarnished image," Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the US Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP earlier in December.

Meanwhile, data from antibodies circulating in Wuhan suggest that the number of cases in the epicentre of the pandemic may be 10 times higher than previously reported, Chinese health authorities said this week.

That news comes after a Chinese journalist was jailed for four years Monday (December 28) for her reporting about the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in China just weeks before the World Health Organisation is set to start investigating the origins of the virus.

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Less efficacy means less danger and less complications. This applies to the Chinese vaccine.