China Claims It Has an mRNA Vaccine Product for the Omicron Variant of Coronavirus

A worker checks syringes of the potential vaccine CoronaVac on the production line at Sinovac Biotech where the company is producing their potential COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac on September 24, 2020 during a media tour in Beijing, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Sinopharm, a Chinese state-run pharmaceutical company, announced on Monday that it had submitted an application for clinical trials of an “Omicron-specific mRNA COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine [candidate]” that it allegedly produced, China’s state-run Global Times reported.

“The application for clinical trials of a domestic Omicron-specific mRNA COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine [candidate] has been submitted for approval, marking a leading step in efforts to fight the Omicron variant, Chinese leading vaccine producer Sinopharm said on Monday,” the Global Times relayed on August 15.

Sinopharm is officially known as the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation (CNPGC).

“Sinopharm has independently developed four COVID-19 vaccines, four COVID-19 diagnostic reagents and four COVID-19 treatment drugs to date. It is the only manufacturer in the world that has developed three types of COVID-19 vaccines at the same time,” according to the Global Times, which used the term “COVID-19” instead of the alternative name “Chinese coronavirus.”

“COVID-19” is the name of the disease caused by “SARS-CoV-2,” which is a type of coronavirus. “Omicron” is the name of the latest known variant of “SARS-CoV-2,” as determined by the World Health Organization.

The British scientific journal Nature reported on the alleged development of an mRNA vaccine candidate against the Chinese coronavirus called “ArCoV”  — which has been produced jointly by the Chinese biotech and pharmaceutical company Yuxi Walvax Biotechnology, the Chinese company Suzhou Abogen Biosciences, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science — on June 27, writing:

China is getting closer to approving its first mRNA vaccine to protect people against COVID-19. In a small clinical trial, the Chinese vaccine candidate triggered a stronger antibody response in vaccinated adults when given as a booster shot than did a jab containing inactivated SARS-CoV-2, the vaccine platform that the country has mostly relied on so far.

The experimental jab, called ArCoV, is a strong candidate to become China’s first approved mRNA vaccine. But what it would mean for the government’s handling of the pandemic is hard to know, say researchers. A highly effective mRNA vaccine would reduce the chances of widespread serious infections that could overwhelm hospitals. However, it is unlikely to bring an end to the country’s strict ‘zero COVID’ strategy, which uses mass testing and lockdowns to quash all infections.

So far, the Chinese drug regulator has approved seven COVID-19 vaccines. Most residents of China are vaccinated with one of two inactivated-virus vaccines, either CoronaVac, made by Beijing-based company Sinovac, or BBIBP-CorV, made by the state-supported company Sinopharm in Beijing. The inactivated-virus vaccines are effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death1, but provide less protection than do the two mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna, which have been used widely outside China.

Nearly all Chinese coronavirus vaccines manufactured in China and approved for use both domestically and abroad to date have used inactivated vaccine technology. None have yet used mRNA technology.

Inactivated vaccines impart disease immunity to a patient by injecting that person with a “killed version of the germ that causes a disease,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website.

“Inactivated vaccines usually don’t provide immunity (protection) that’s as strong as live vaccines. So you may need several doses over time (booster shots) in order to get ongoing immunity against diseases,” the HHS writes.

Inactivated vaccine technology is used in many established inoculations including those against hepatitis A, the flu, polio, and rabies.

The first mRNA vaccine was brought to market in late 2020 in response to the onset of the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic earlier that year. Pfizer-BioNTech’s Chinese coronavirus vaccine was the first mRNA product granted full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. on August 23, 2021. Pfizer Inc. is a U.S.-based multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation that, together with the German biotech company BioNTech, developed its Chinese coronavirus vaccine based on mRNA technology. The Pfizer-BioNTech Chinese coronavirus vaccine was distributed for public use prior to its FDA approval in August 2021 under an “Emergency Use Approval (EUA)” issued by the FDA on December 11, 2020.

“[The] Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine […] uses genetically engineered mRNA to give your cells instructions for how to make the S protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes on its website.

“After vaccination, your muscle cells begin making the S protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces. This causes your body to create antibodies. If you later become infected with the COVID-19 virus, these antibodies will fight the virus,” according to the CDC. “After delivering instructions, the mRNA is immediately broken down. It never enters the nucleus of your cells, where your DNA is kept.”

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