04/14/2021, 15.48
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Doubts in Argentina about the effectiveness of Chinese anti-COVID vaccines

by Silvina Premat

Argentina relies on Sinopharm, whose level of effectiveness has yet to be verified. Sinovac used in Chile and Brazil has a success rate just above 50 per cent. For immunologist Guillermo Docena, any vaccine is better than nothing during a pandemic. Chinese vaccines could be enhanced with Russia’s Sputnik.


Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) – The effectiveness of Chinese vaccines against COVID-19 is one of the most talked about topics in Argentina at present.  

A recent statement by Gao Fu, a senior Chinese health official, on the low effectiveness of Chinese anti-coronavirus drugs added to the concern sparked by the death of a famous journalist and television personality.

Mauro Viale died last Sunday, four days after receiving the first dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine. Argentinian doctors immediately explained that Viale's death was not caused by the vaccine, but by COVID-19, which he had already contracted but had not yet shown any symptoms.

In Chile too, anxiety is growing following a surge in cases, this despite the fact that almost 25 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated (63.5 doses per 100 people).

Like Brazil, Chile relies on the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, which is 56.4 per cent effective once two doses are administered, this according to Chile’s national university. So far 89 per cent of all vaccinations in the South American country were done with the Sinovac vaccine.

Argentina has had 2.5 million cases with more than 58,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak. The vaccination campaign, which began on 29 December, is proceeding slowly.

According to the Pan-American Health Organisation, as of last Monday, some 4.9 million doses have been administered, covering 10 per cent of the total population. Russia’s Sputnik V was given to 3.2 million people (65 per cent) with Sinopharm to just over a million (21 per cent).

“Sinopharm is being used to discredit [China],” said immunologist Guillermo Docena, director of the Institute for Immunological and Physio-pathological Studies at the National University of La Plata, speaking to AsiaNews.

Docena is one of the authors of the first study outside Russia on Sputnik. Based on a sample of 288 Argentinians, 94 per cent of vaccinated people developed the expected antibodies 21 days after the first jab.

The same research is underway for Sinopharm. The only data available are those in Lancet, which reported an effectiveness of 79.6 per cent in the first two phases of experimentation. “All I can say so far is that the Chinese vaccine seems to be less powerful than the Russian vaccine,” noted Docena.

Still, in his view, Sinopharm appears to be more effective than Sinovac, based on the results not only of a Chilean study, but also one done in Brazil, which found that Sinovac’s effectiveness was only 50.4 per cent.

The researcher added however, that when we talk about effectiveness, we have to distinguish between preventing infection and avoiding a serious disease.

“In a critical situation like the one we are in now, any vaccine is better than none,” Docena said. “In the middle of a surge of cases it is no small feat to save half of the people”.

The Argentinian scientist appreciated Gao Fu's honesty in acknowledging “that Chinese vaccines are not effective enough, which raises the question of how to improve them.”

Gao suggested using different vaccines with the same patient, increasing the number of doses from two to three, and changing the interval between doses.

These solutions cold improve any vaccine. “In fact to enhance the AstraZeneca vaccine, we are looking at combining it with Sputnik,” Docena explained. “At first glance this is not bad. We have to study it, produce it and if it doesn't work, correct it.” But to do this, you need vaccines. “If they don't come, that will be a problem.”

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