Seychelles, Mongolia, Chile and Bahrain have in recent months relied on China’s vaccine diplomacy to propel their inoculation drives and get back to a version of normalcy in the time of a pandemic.
The four countries have administered at least one dose of the vaccine to a large chunk of their populations, ranging between 58.7% for Mongolia to nearly 72% for Seychelles.
Yet, they are now battling a fresh surge in Covid-19 infections that scientists say shouldn’t be happening.
Some experts say one of the key reasons could be the vaccines themselves. The millions of doses provided by China to the countries in recent months may not be very effective in containing the coronavirus disease, especially when faced off against the new virus variants that have triggered outbreaks in regions world over.
“If the vaccines are sufficiently good, we should not see this pattern,” Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, told the New York Times, which first reported about this on Tuesday.
“The Chinese have a responsibility to remedy this,” he added.
Others referred to the scarcity of data that emerges out of China, be it the clinical trials for the vaccines or efficacy and safety results. The country has approved seven domestically developed vaccines, including two of them for children as young as three years old.
Of these, the two widely made available across the world – the shots developed by Chinese firms Sinovac and Sinopharm – have been given the World Health Organization’s emergency use listing (EUL).
Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot has a low efficacy of 51%, and Sinopharm’s 79% against symptomatic disease. In contrast, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – primarily deployed in the western world – have shown efficacy rates of well over 90% against symptomatic disease in clinical trials.
The last few weeks have seen cases jump in the four countries. Mongolia, which is largely relying on Chinese vaccines, recorded 2,400 new infections on Sunday — a quadrupling from a month before.
In Seychelles – where the vaccination drive was largely based on the Sinopharm shot – the number of daily new cases is more than 716 per million, according to the NYT report. The country has administered at least one shot to nearly 72% of its population.
This too is stark shift from Israel, which has vaccinated 63% (at least one shot) and where daily new cases are at six per million of its population.
Similarly, a virus surge in Chile has overwhelmed hospitals and prompted the government to extend border closures through June. Bahrain, where nearly 50% of the population is fully vaccinated and most received the Sinopharm jab, earlier this month allowed people to take a third booster shot as it recorded a spike in infections.
Officials from the four countries, however, say there may be other reasons for this uptick in cases. A health ministry official in Mongolia told NYT that the country may have eased restrictions too quickly, adding that the Chinese vaccines likely prevented severe illness and a higher mortality rate.
Authorities in Seychelles, too, defended the vaccine.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement there was no direct link between the recent outbreaks and its vaccines, and that the vaccination rate in some regions may not be high enough to prevent the disease from spreading.
William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, told the NYT that the efficacy rates of the Chinese vaccines may be low enough “to sustain some transmission… even though it keeps people largely out of the hospital”.