In July, the blow was reported have successfully passed an expert review by Chinese regulators and was in the administrative review stage, according to Fosun Pharma, BioNTech’s Chinese partner licensed to produce and distribute the vaccine in the Greater China region. Fosun even planned to start domesticating test production by the end of August.

However, five months later, Chinese authorities still don’t know when – or if – the vaccine will ever be approved, even though the new Omicron variant poses a new challenge to China’s zero Covid strategy – and its less domestic vaccines. effective.

Much remains unknown about the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, which carries an unusually high amount of mutations that scientists fear could potentially make it more transmissible and less sensitive to existing vaccines.

Preliminary laboratory studies show that two doses of the BioNTech vaccine, which is produced by Pfizer outside of China, may not provide sufficient protection against infection with Omicron, but three doses are able to neutralize it, Pfizer said. / BioNTech in a press release last week. Two doses can still offer protection against serious illness, he added.
China has not released studies on protecting its domestic vaccines against Omicron, although experts and state media have expressed confidence by braking the new variant.
More than 1.1 billion Chinese – nearly 80% of the population – have been fully immunized, mostly with inactivated vaccines developed by Sinopharm and Sinovac. But their effectiveness has been shown to be much lower than that of mRNA injections, and studies suggest the immunity provided by Chinese vaccines wanes rapidly.

According to the World Health Organization, Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine was only 51% effective in preventing symptomatic disease against the original variant, while Sinopharm was at 79%. In comparison, the efficacy of mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna was as high as 95%.

And one Hong Kong study published in The Lancet in June found that healthcare workers fully vaccinated with BioNTech’s mRNA injection had around 10 times more antibodies than those who received Sinovac’s inactivated vaccine.

The limited protection offered by Chinese vaccines is nowhere near enough to meet China’s ambitious goal of keeping Covid infection at zero within its borders. In recent months, authorities have used increasingly stringent measures to curb local epidemics – often at high economic cost and disrupting daily life.

But the infections continued to escalate. Last week, more than 130 cases were reported in the eastern province of Zhejiang, which is home to the country’s main manufacturing and export centers. And several local authorities across China have called on residents not to return home for the Lunar Chinese New Year to reduce the spread of the virus.

To improve declining public immunity, Chinese authorities have started rolling out booster shots, but again using inactivated vaccines.

Some studies have shown that mRNA vaccines can generate better immune responses in the form of boosters. A recent British study, for example, found that mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna provide the biggest boost in antibody levels when given 10 to 12 weeks after the second dose. Meanwhile, two separate studies from Israel published last week showed booster doses of Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine being reduced tenfold infections and covid 90% death.
It’s not that Chinese authorities are ignoring the benefit of using mRNA vaccines. Last month, Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recognized that “real world data showed that using mRNA vaccines or recombinant protein vaccines as a booster dose for inactivated vaccines would give better results,” citing data from countries like Turkey, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Lebanon.

But still, Zeng insisted that using the same technology to deliver booster shots would be safer and more widely accepted by the public.

So why is the Chinese government reluctant to approve Western mRNA vaccines?

Yanzhong Huang, senior global health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said politics seemed to be the main consideration at stake.

China has pledged millions of coronavirus vaccines to countries around the world.  And he's ready to deliver them
China had been a pioneer in the global vaccine race for much of the past year, developing multiple injections of Covid using the old-fashioned approach of using an inactivated whole virus to trick the body into building immunity.
It also sent billions of doses abroad – a campaign that has provided vital access to vaccines in developing countries, while also serving to help Beijing promote soft power and project international influence.

“When China developed their own vaccines, they used it to show off China’s technological advancements. And now if you switch to an overseas-made vaccine, that’s admitting that you’re not so good than other countries in terms of technological capabilities, ”Huang said.

The Chinese government may also want to protect the interests of its domestic vaccine industry, according to Huang. “I’m sure they (the existing vaccine makers) would be very reluctant to bring foreigners into this huge market,” he said.

As Chinese regulators have suspended approval of the BioNTech vaccine, domestic companies have been given the green light to move forward with the development of their own mRNA vaccines.

Last month, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology approved tests for a nationally developed mRNA vaccine as a booster injection – for adults who have been completely inoculated with inactivated vaccines. He has already conducted clinical trials in countries like Mexico and Indonesia, although the results have yet to be announced.
The vaccine, ARCoVax, was jointly developed by Walvax Biotechnology, Suzhou Abogen Biosciences and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, a Chinese military research institute. Its production base in southwestern Yunnan province has the capacity to produce 200 million doses per year, according to state media reports, who praised China’s success in “grasping the basic technology of mRNA vaccines”.

Several other Chinese companies, including state-owned giant Sinopharm, are also developing mRNA vaccines, Huang said. Beijing will likely want to approve local mRNA vaccines before giving the green light to foreign vaccines, he added.

But there are signs that Chinese experts are hoping for more cooperation with their Western counterparts.

Over the weekend, Zhong Nanshan, one of China’s leading respiratory disease experts and government adviser, urged China to step up exchanges and cooperation in vaccine development with other countries.

“We need to learn about the good things in other countries, like mRNA (vaccines),” Zhong said in a forum in the southern city of Guangzhou on Saturday.

“They have devoted years to research and managed to develop the world’s first mRNA (vaccine) in just a few months … We have to learn from their technology in this area,” he said.


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