06/18/2021, 14.55
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Doubts growing in Chile, Brazil, and Peru about the effectiveness of Chinese anti-COVID vaccines

by Silvina Premat

About 45 per cent of Chileans have been vaccinated, especially with Sinovac, but infections are at their highest since the outbreak of the pandemic. Of the 70 million doses administered in Brazil, 55 per cent are Chinese; yet the number of cases continues to rise. Peru is facing the same issue with Sinopharm. For CADAL researchers, suspicions about Chinese drugs are legitimate.

Buenos Aires (Asia News) – The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Latin America is increasing at almost the same rate as the number of people infected. The case of Chile – the first country in the region to immunise 45 per cent of its population – is raising suspicions and questions about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines in a continent where the pandemic has already claimed more than a million lives.

Chile began vaccinating on 3 February this year, relying mostly on CoronaVac, a vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd, a Chinese pharmaceutical company. However, nationwide infections and intensive care bed occupancy are currently at their highest level since the start of the pandemic.

Faced with doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness, Chilean authorities released the results of a study that recorded the behaviour of 10.5 million people up to 14 days after receiving the second dose.

According to the study, CoronoVac’s effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 is 67 per cent; 85 per cent in cases that required hospitalisation, 89 per cent in cases that needed intensive care (ICU), and 80 per cent of cases prevented death. However, the effectiveness in preventing contagion is 54 per cent. Meanwhile, with one dose the efficacy is 16 per cent for symptomatic COVID-19, 35 per cent with hospitalisation and 40 per cent in death prevention.

“We don't know if [the CoronaVac vaccine] protects against transmission,” says their latest report (11 June) by ICOVID Chile, an initiative of the Universidad de Chile, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Universidad de Concepción, which analyses and reports on the COVID-19 situation in that country based on official data.

ICOVID Chile researchers warn that the effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine against variants of the coronavirus reported in more than half of the latest cases in people under 50 years of age is unknown.

CoronaVac is also controversial in Brazil. The country of 200 million inhabitants has lost nearly half a million people to COVID-19. About 55 per cent of the 70 million doses administered so far come from the Sinovac vaccine whose effectiveness was criticised months ago by some Brazilian scientists.

However, the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) authorised its use, which found it effective in 50 per cent of overall cases and 100 per cent in moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. Still, President Jair Bolsonaro decided against it and on June 16 announced the purchase of 200 million doses of the American Pfizer.

“The CoronaVac can be stored, it appears, for six months. Some people who received it have not developed antibodies. This vaccine has not been scientifically verified,” said Bolsonaro, who is facing serious complaints about his government's handling of the pandemic.

The situation is also particularly serious in Peru where a political crisis has worsened the health situation. In one year the country has had two presidents and four health ministers. Out of a population of 32 million, Peru has reported more than 189,000 deaths related to COVID-19.

The vaccine from China’s Sinopharm state laboratory accounts for about 35 per cent of those administered so far (about eight million) in a slow and uneven campaign. Some of Peru’s Amazonian and mountainous regions are not easily accessible and require special logistics to be reached. In total, 5 per cent of the Peruvian population has received two doses and 10 per cent one.

In addition to the vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac, several Latin American countries bought a vaccine from CanSino Biologics, a Chinese private laboratory, whose effectiveness is said to be 65 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic cases with a 90 per cent success rate against severe disease.

“Politically, China’s official discourse dismisses legitimate scientific suspicions aroused by its vaccines as an attempt at Western politicisation,” say Juan Pablo Cardenal and Alfonso Cañal, researchers with CADAL, the Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (Centre for Opening and Development in Latin America). However, “The evidence that suspicions about Chinese vaccines are not a Western bias is the fact that the Russian vaccine, evaluated and approved like the others, has not been criticised.”

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