China Declares Its 50-Percent Effective Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate ‘Good Enough’

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination centre in Hyde on December 17, 2020 in Manchester, England. The coronavirus drive-through vaccine centre is believed to be the first in the world. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

China’s state-run Global Times on Wednesday put the happiest possible spin on a dismaying Brazilian study that showed China’s Sinovac vaccine candidate for the Chinese coronavirus is only 50 percent effective.

Even though the results were far below the 80 percent effectiveness originally claimed — and that, in turn, was far below the estimates for vaccines like the one made by Pfizer — the Global Times declared it was “good enough.”

Sao Paulo-based Instituto Butantan, the research institute developing the Sinovac product for distribution in Brazil, announced last week that clinical tests showed it to be 78 percent effective overall. On Tuesday, the institute revealed at a press conference that late-stage trials involving over 12,000 volunteers showed it was only 50.38 percent effective overall, although the Brazilian researchers said it was much more effective at treating “severe” cases of Chinese coronavirus than mild infections.

“This is an efficient vaccine. We have a vaccine that is able to control the pandemic through this expected effect, which is the decrease in the disease’s intensity,” insisted chief researcher Ricardo Palacios of Instituto Butantan at a press conference Tuesday.

Voice of America News (VOA) noted the Brazilian government is under tremendous pressure to bring a vaccine into play after a series of delays, while neighbors like Chile and Argentina have already launched vaccination campaigns using Pfizer’s product and Russia’s Sputnik V, respectively.

“Last week, Bolsonaro’s government closed an exclusive deal with Instituto Butantan for 100 million doses to be distributed by the end of 2021. The vaccine, however, still needs the approval of the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA),” VOA reported.

The Global Times heavily touted upbeat comments from Brazilian researchers, highlighted the lack of side effects, and noted the Sinovac vaccine candidate was given higher ratings in trials conducted outside Brazil, “which is normal and shows the objectivity of clinical trials,” according to a Sinovac document.

The Chinese state media article quoted Chinese experts who explained why Sinovac is “good enough” to combat Brazil’s coronavirus epidemic:

Experts say the result is good enough considering almost all participants in Brazil are high-risk medical workers, and the 77.96 efficacy for mild-case protection means the vaccine can reduce 78 percent of people from needing hospitalization.

We have today one of the best vaccines in the world, Dimas Covas, director of the Butantan Institute in Brazil, said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Almost all of participants in the trials are medical workers at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. “The vaccine was able to 100 percent prevent severe illness in such a high-risk population, and effectively control the morbidity, and protect at least 50% of people from infection, which is good enough,” Wang Guiqiang, director of the Infectious Disease Department at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Wang further argued that the Sinovac vaccine candidate could avert “medical system collapse” in Brazil by reducing the number of people who need hospitalization, while vaccine developer Shao Yiming suggested the low overall effectiveness rating could be a result of the high infection risk of its trial environment.

Sinovac says its Phase Three trial is the first one conducted entirely with medical workers, creating an infection risk environment “three times higher than Pfizer’s and six times higher than Moderna’s.”

VOA noted that 50 percent overall effectiveness is the bare minimum threshold recommended by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA). 

The British government hinted Wednesday that it could ban flights from Brazil because a dangerous new variant of the coronavirus is spreading there, potentially threatening the U.K.’s vaccination program if it reaches Britain’s shores.


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