The editor-in-chief of Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times, Hu Xijin, declared on Tuesday that the announcement from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer regarding a breakthrough in Chinese coronavirus vaccine development was “odd,” noting the timing after the U.S. election.
Hu objected to the timing of the announcement by Pfizer, both the fact that it occurred after the American presidential election and immediately before the government of Brazil halted clinical trials of a Chinese vaccine candidate, claiming that a “serious adverse event” had occurred to one of its participants. Conservative Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has stated that he will not allow his government to purchase and distribute vaccines from China, which the Brazilian public vocally distrust.
Brazilians in Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city, took the streets last week chanting “my body, my choice” in opposition to a mandatory Chinese-developed vaccine, which Governor Joao Doria, a Bolsonaro rival, has supported.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has identified 47 Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidates in development as of November 3. Of these, 11 are being developed in China, either by the government or government-controlled companies. Hu’s concern about timing appeared not to be directly related to a Pfizer announcement hurting President Donald Trump if it occurred before the election, but rather about the success of the Chinese vaccine candidates. Hu expressed concern that other contenders could elbow the Chinese vaccine candidates out of the global market for “political” reasons.
China has developed a reputation for developing dangerous, ineffective, and otherwise unhelpful vaccines. Chinese citizens are reportedly extremely distrustful of their own country’s vaccines and have protested nationwide when faced with scandals such as the 2018 incident where officials found that Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology, a government-linked pharmaceutical company, had sold nearly a million expired or faulty vaccines, meaning nearly a million children were immunocompromised without knowing it.
“Just a few days after the U.S. presidential election, Pfizer announced that it has made significant progress in developing a Covid-19 vaccine. This is good news, but the timing is a bit odd,” Hu wrote in his propaganda newspaper. “Then, Brazil halted Phase III clinical trials of a Chinese COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine, citing ‘a serious adverse event.’ It is even more odd.”
“I am very worried that politics and excessive pursuit of profit are very much involved in these announcements surrounding vaccines,” Hu added.
Of the current vaccine candidates China has in development, Hu claimed, only the “CoronaVac” candidate in Brazil has seen a sudden testing suspension. “Because there still isn’t enough information available, we need to wait for further information to be released,” Hu added, calling the announcement regarding the vaccine candidate “sudden.”
“I personally have confidence in China’s vaccine development and the overall seriousness of its handling of the pandemic. China’s scientific research institutions were the first to isolate the strain of the coronavirus, and were the first to invest in vaccine development, all under strict national-level controls,” he claimed.
China is the origin country of the Chinese coronavirus, first identified in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. Chinese officials censored and detained doctors and other health officials who warned of the spread of an infectious disease in Wuhan. Beijing also provided false information to the W.H.O., which it later spread, that it had no evidence the Chinese coronavirus could spread from human to human. To this day, China continues to promote dubious “traditional Chinese medicine” treatments for coronavirus infection.
Hu repeated his skepticism regarding Pfizer on Twitter.
Pfizer announced its progress on COVID-19 vaccine right after the election, this is odd. It is even weirder that trial of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine was halted by Brazil later. I am worried that politics and excessive pursuit of economic interests are involved in vaccine R&D.
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 10, 2020
Pfizer announced on Monday that an early analysis of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, developed alongside German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, found it potentially more than 90 percent effective in preventing Chinese coronavirus infections, with no significant side effects. Pfizer spokespersons also insisted that the vaccine was not part of “Operation Warp Speed,” Trump’s plan to partner with American pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine against the disease as quickly as possible.
In July, Pfizer announced it had signed a $1.95-billion deal with the Trump administration as part of “Operation Warp Speed” to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
“It is the biggest deal to date under Operation Warp Speed, intended to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of coronavirus vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics,” the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported at the time.
Chinese Communist Party officials have moved to inject tens of thousands with experimental vaccine candidates as rapidly as possible. In October, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology confirmed that 60,000 “volunteers” had received multiple vaccine candidates and that the Communist Party had not documented any “severe” side effects. One of the vaccine candidates, from the firm Sinovac, had expanded experimentation on humans into Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey, according to Chinese state media.
Prior to clarifying the number of “volunteers” involved in the experiments, the head of the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC)’s Development Center for Medical Science and Technology claimed in August that it had started distributing vaccine candidates “for emergency use.” The head of China’s Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, claimed he took a vaccine candidate in July.
As China alleged major victories in developing a coronavirus vaccine, reports surfaced from inside the country that the Communist Party was struggling to convince citizens to take influenza vaccines, which have been part of regular immunization cycles for decades. The U.S. Surgeon General first recommended annual influenza vaccines for citizens at high risk of death from the respiratory disease in 1960.
“[W]hile China has the capacity to increase flu vaccine supply, public demand has remained low because of a lack of trust, a lack of public awareness, poor access, as well as cost,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in September. Chinese officials reportedly blamed the Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology vaccine scandal for much of the mistrust.
Protests erupted nationwide as parents received the news that their children were effectively unvaccinated. In January 2019, an angry mob of parents severely beat a Communist Party health official in public.
The incident spawned a new wave of parent activists against the regime. He Fangmei, a dissident parent whose daughter fell ill after receiving a faulty vaccine, disappeared in October, presumably arrested for her activism.
In Lanzhou, a vaccine factory suffered an outbreak of brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease, last year after workers used expired, and therefore ineffective, sanitation products to clean facilities. Last week, government officials confirmed that over 6,000 people in the city have been infected so far in the ongoing outbreak.