The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is well aware of the existing problems with the country’s coronavirus vaccines and is exploring the option of mixing vaccines to improve them. The vaccines that have been manufactured by China “don’t have very high protection rates,” the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, said at a conference on Saturday. The remarks amounted to a rare instance of a Chinese official acknowledging questions about the effectiveness of the country’s vaccines that have been broadly distributed abroad.
In order to deal with the problems, China is “formally considering” whether it should mix vaccines in order to improve the effectiveness. Another possible solution could be to change how the doses are doled out and the space between each shot. China had previously tried to raise doubts about the new vaccines, such as the one by Pfizer and Moderna, that use the new messenger RNA technology. But now China is working on its own MRNA vaccine.
Gao’s words spread quickly on social media but were later censored. “It is the first time . . . a government official publicly admitted that the protection rate is a concern in the vaccination drive,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells the Financial Times. None of the Chinese vaccines have published phase 3 trial data, leading to questions about transparency even as it sells millions of doses abroad. A recent study of the Sinovac vaccine in Chile found that the efficacy rate of one shot of the vaccine was only 3 percent, compared to 56 percent with two shots. The country’s Sinopharm vaccine claims to have a 79 percent efficacy rate after two shots.
After his statement spread quickly around the world, Gao tried to do some damage control by claiming his words were misconstrued. “It was a complete misunderstanding,” he told China’s Global Times newspaper, which is aligned with the Chinese Communist Party. “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 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.”
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.