The head of China’s Center of Disease Control (CDC), Gao Fu, insisted in an interview Sunday that global media misinterpreted his remarks claiming Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates.”
Outlets reporting Gao did not consider the vaccines especially effective in curbing the Chinese coronavirus pandemic in light of that comment “was a complete misunderstanding,” he told the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper.
The first vaccine candidate the Chinese government approved — “Coronavac” by the firm Sinovac Biotech — tested at a poor 50.38-percent efficacy rate in preventing coronavirus infections after final trials by Brazil’s Butantan Institute. The CEO of the company later claimed the vaccine candidate was actually closer to “80-90 percent effective” but did not reveal which studies had yielded that result or what Coronavac was allegedly effective at doing.
Gao had claimed to take an experimental vaccine candidate in July 2020, long before Beijing approved many of the several options in development at the time, but never revealed which one. Coronavac’s main rival is a product developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm which allegedly tested at 79-percent effectiveness.
The Chinese options have tested at much lower rates of success in preventing coronavirus infections than the two mRNA technology vaccines developed in America. The products, by the firms Pfizer and Moderna, both tested at about a 95-percent efficacy rate for preventing infections.
In remarks at a conference this weekend, Gao admitted the Chinese-made options “don’t have very high protection rates” and mused aloud that Chinese companies should consider copying the mRNA technology used by the American companies.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said. “Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity. We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
In an “exclusive” interview with the Global Times published Sunday, Gao condemned media organizations that reported that he did not consider the Chinese products of especially high quality.
“It was a complete misunderstanding,” Gao claimed.
“The protection rates of all vaccines in the world are sometimes high, and sometimes low. How to improve their efficacy is a question that needs to be considered by scientists around the world,” Gao said in his latest remarks. “In this regard, I suggest that we can consider adjusting the vaccination process, such as the number of doses and intervals and adopting sequential vaccination with different types of vaccines.”
“If we go with the traditional way of developing a vaccine, we wouldn’t have had a vaccine within a year. But scientists all over the world developed COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccines within a few months, which is the first time in the world’s history. There are many scientific questions that need to be addressed,” Gao said.
Gao’s comments, as one of the most respected voices in Chinese public health, have been compromising for the Communist Party at other times in the pandemic. In January 2020, when the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) first confirmed the existence of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, Gao stated definitively that the virus had originated in Wuhan and blamed a local “wet market” accused of illegally selling exotic meat.
“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao said.
The Communist Party now vocally rejects any theory that designates China the origin nation of the virus. The Global Times last week stated that anyone claiming the virus “originated in China” is parroting a “conspiracy theory” that merits censorship, despite no evidence existing for the virus to have originated anywhere else.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry insists the W.H.O. should investigate the United States, and specifically U.S. Army facilities, for evidence the virus originated there.
Gao’s questioning of the Chinese vaccines presents a significant concern for foreign purchasers. While Chinese citizens are rejecting the option to vaccinate at high rates — a product of Chinese pharmaceutical companies being the center of multiple recent scandals involving faulty or watered-down vaccines — at least ten countries have purchased “Coronavac” doses and administered them widely. Among Coronavac’s most loyal customers is the government of Chile, which received lavish international praise for its high rates of vaccination, then experienced a surge in coronavirus cases after relying almost exclusively on Sinovac’s product. An estimated 90 percent of “vaccinated” Chileans received coronavac.
Defenders of Coronavac claim Chile’s experience may be the result of exposure to “variants” of the virus and that the rise in cases has not corresponded with a rise in hospitalizations or deaths. The Global Times angrily disparaged a report by the University of Chile that found a single dose of “Coronavac” to be three percent effective in containing the virus; though it found a similar 56-percent effectiveness rating after the recommended second dose.
“Coronavac” has been the product of significant distrust elsewhere in the world, prominently in Chinese-colonized Hong Kong, where its use in the elderly has been tied to several deaths. The Chinese Communist Party has not yet approved the Sinovac product for older citizens, but Hong Kong’s local administrators abruptly did so. The result has been widespread cancellation of vaccine appointments in the city.
Sinovac is currently attempting to convince the world to expand the age range for use of its vaccine candidate to children as young as three years old.