Representational image.  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images
- Chinese mouthpiece Global Times has, in recent days, activated a propaganda campaign questioning the efficacy of India’s vaccines while attempting to cast doubts on India’s ability to mass manufacture and fulfil its vaccine-related obligations to other nations
- More recent trials undertaken by the Butantan Institute – Sinovac’s partner in Brazil – found Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine to be just 50.4 per cent effective
- A recent YouGov survey, that included 19,000 participants across 17 countries and regions, revealed that the majority remained distrustful of COVID-19 vaccines being produced in China
With India now aggressively engaging in its vaccine diplomacy drive dubbed ‘Vaccine Maitri,’ China has ramped up efforts to instigate mistrust in the two indigenously-developed Indian vaccines via its state-run publication Global Times.
India has already delivered consignments of the Serum Insitute of India’s (SII) Covishield vaccines to all SAARC nations barring Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, 500,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be gifted to Sri Lanka later this week while the central government has also provided assurances to Kabul that it will be prioritised as a beneficiary under India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
However, Chinese mouthpiece Global Times has, in recent days, activated a propaganda campaign questioning the efficacy of India’s vaccines while attempting to cast doubts on India’s ability to mass manufacture and fulfil its vaccine-related obligations to other nations. More specifically, it has stated that SII is yet to complete a “bridging study” for its vaccine while also calling attention to vaccine hesitancy among Indian doctors over Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
But it isn’t just India that China has targeted. State media have also launched misinformation campaigns against American-made vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, casting Chinese vaccines as a better alternative. Several online videos created have also been picked up by the large anti-vaccine movement in the United States.
China’s vaccine diplomacy runs into obstacles
Having attracted immense scrutiny over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, its decision to re-open its wet markets while the rest of the world continued to reel from the virus outbreak, and reports over faulty Chinese-made diagnostic and protective equipment exported to other countries, China is hoping to repair its geopolitical reputation through its vaccine diplomacy initiatives.
As per some reports, at least 24 nations – the majority of which are either low-income or middle-income – have inked agreements with Chinese vaccine manufacturers, as China seeks to capitalise on the rising levels of vaccine nationalism which have seen richer nations claim the bulk of doses produced by American manufacturers.
However, things don’t appear to be going to plan. In recent months, China has once again found itself the centre of attention as questions over the efficacy of its indigenously-made vaccines swirl. Chinese manufacturers Sinopharm and Sinovac have noted that they ought to be able to produce as many as two billion doses this year but a lack of data over relevant clinical trials has attracted doubt over how effective they may truly be.
Officials in Turkey, for instance, have stated that trials of the Sinovac vaccine in the country showed that it had a 91 per cent efficacy rate. Yet, in Indonesia, this was found to be 68 per cent, and in Brazil 78 per cent. More recent trials undertaken by the Butantan Institute – Sinovac’s partner in Brazil – found Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine to be just 50.4 per cent effective when mild cases (that did not require treatment) were included.
Butanatan’s trials have triggered a political debate in other countries, most notably the Philippines with lawmakers questioning the government’s decision to purchase the CoronaVac vaccine without a full review of clinical data. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro – a consistent critic of China’s vaccines – also jumped on the low efficacy rate recorded, quizzing a supporter, “Is that 50 per cent good?”
It is also worth noting that Sinopharm’s vaccine, as per studies conducted by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, had an efficacy of 79 per cent – still markedly lower than those of Pfizer‘s and Moderna‘s vaccines.
With vaccine demand likely to significantly outstrip supply, at least, during the initial months of global vaccine rollouts, low-income and middle-income countries may have limited choice in selecting vaccines for their populations, which will ultimately mean that Chinese manufacturers are unlikely to struggle to find takers despite spotty data disclosures. However, a recent YouGov survey, that included 19,000 participants across 17 countries and regions, revealed that the majority remained distrustful of COVID-19 vaccines being produced in China.