Vaccine diplomacy

The only Filipino taker of Sinopharm’s Covid shot is…


Duterte: forced to apologise

Rodrigo Duterte is known as the strongman of the Philippines. Yet on May 5 the outspoken president publicly apologised for getting a Sinopharm inoculation, a stunt streamed live on Facebook to encourage vaccinations. His error? Choosing a Covid-19 vaccination not yet approved by his country’s healthcare authorities.

“We are sorry for the things you are criticising us for, we accept responsibility,” Duterte said. He then asked the Chinese ambassador in Manila to withdraw donations of 1,000 Sinopharm jabs and withhold further donations of the same vaccine.

The Philippines has been struggling to procure enough vaccines. With 1.1 million infections and 18,562 deaths, it has the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases and casualties in Southeast Asia. Yet only 1.9% of its population of 110 million have had at least one dose of a vaccine so far, according to Reuters. Having received its first batch of Pfizer vaccines – no more than 200,000 doses – early this week, the Philippines has got 90% of its supply from Sinovac, another Chinese vaccine, via a purchase agreement of 25 million doses.

The Duterte incident occurred a day before the Sinopharm jab was granted emergency use approval from the World Health Organisation. The Sinovac one was still under WHO review as WiC went to print.

Complicating debates about the effectiveness of Chinese jabs is the Seychelles. Around 57% of its fully inoculated population were given the Sinopharm vaccine but it has seen a spike in Covid cases recently – suggestive of that jab’s poor efficacy. In contrast, CoronaVac – developed by Sinovac – is showing results in Indonesia that are outperforming its clinical trials, Bloomberg reported. A study of some 128,000 Jakarta health workers found that CoronaVac had prevented 98% of the subjects from dying, 96% from hospitalisation and 94% from symptomatic infection as soon as seven days after the second dose. The study was completed by Indonesia’s health ministry, independently of Sinovac. Chile’s data likewise suggests that CoronaVac prevented 80% of deaths in those vaccinated and stopped 67% from developing symptomatic Covid.

Meanwhile China is also accelerating development of its own messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, a platform used by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. Shenzhen-listed Walvax Biotechnology will begin Phase III trials of its ARCoVax in Mexico starting from May 30. 

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