China slips in COVID-19 vaccine race on doubts over effectiveness

China slips in COVID-19 vaccine race on doubts over effectiveness

Xi made inoculation diplomacy a key part of global strategy

BEIJING — China’s vaccine diplomacy faces a setback as questions arise about the efficacy and safety of its coronavirus inoculations while the country speeds a large-scale rollout despite the candidates remaining in the clinical trial phase.

Beijing once led the global race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, but U.S. and European pharmaceutical firms are close to bringing candidates to market.

On Nov. 17, British medical journal The Lancet featured a study about the efficacy of Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine candidate based on initial clinical trials. It found that the Chinese company’s candidate generated lower levels of protective antibodies than those present in recovered coronavirus patients. The efficacy was determined to be moderate.

In contrast, the candidates from U.S.-based Pfizer and Moderna were found to be more than 90% effective, while the offering from Britain’s AstraZeneca had an overall efficacy rate of 70%. Both American pharma companies used cutting-edge technology to develop their products.

Sinovac used an inactivated virus that does not induce illness to develop its candidate, a tried-and-true method long employed for fighting pathogens such as influenza. The report of moderate success therefore caused ripples because more solid results were expected.