More Asian countries are abandoning Chinese vaccines and a Pacific Island nation had delayed the approval of them amid concerns raised about their reduced protection levels against CCP virus infections, giving more validation to a recent suggestion that the window of opportunity is narrowing for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) so-called “vaccine diplomacy.”
Millions of people have received Chinese-made Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines across Asia, but Thailand and Indonesia in the past month decided to drop the Chinese vaccines as their main approach against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.
Thailand on July 12 said it would opt for the AstraZeneca vaccine from Britain as a second dose for people who had received the Sinovac vaccine as their first dose. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government from July 16 started to give medical workers, who had already received two shots of the Sinovac vaccine, an additional shot of the U.S.-manufactured Moderna vaccine.
The decisions by the two countries came after reports emerged about how health care workers still contracted the CCP virus, and some of them died, despite being fully vaccinated with the Chinese vaccines. For example, in Indonesia, while 95 percent Indonesian health workers have been fully vaccinated, 131 of them have died since June, including 50 in July, according to independent data group Lapor COVID-19, Reuters reported.
By choosing to switch vaccines, the Thai and Indonesian governments were essentially “saying they are concerned about vaccine failure,” Dale Fisher, chairman of the World Health Organization’s Outbreak Alert and Response Network, told the BBC in late July.
In Thailand’s Bangkok, protesters took to the streets on July 18 calling for the prime minister to resign over an alleged mishandling of the CCP virus pandemic. The protesters also called for the government to buy mRNA vaccines to replace Sinovac, which is widely seen as inferior inside Thailand, reported VOA.
‘Vaccine Diplomacy’ Opportunity Closing
The recent developments with Thailand and Indonesia come after Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC back in May that China’s window of opportunity for so-called “vaccine diplomacy” might soon close amid efforts from the United States and other western nations to help supply vaccines to foreign countries.
He added that the reduced protection of the Chinese vaccines may have already dampened people’s confidence in them, thereby undermining the soft power the CCP had gained through its “vaccine diplomacy.”
Huang’s comments came amid plans by the United States to supply 80 million doses of vaccines abroad, announced in May. The commitment includes 20 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Over in the Pacific region, Papua New Guinea had received an announcement from the CCP in February that it would send over Sinopharm vaccines in response to rising CCP virus cases in the island nation.
But despite a surge in CCP virus cases, and despite the CCP having supplied data from clinical trials for the Sinopharm vaccine, PNG delayed the Chinese vaccine’s rollout for months until the WHO gave it an emergency approval in May. But by then, PNG had found other alternatives, including AstraZeneca vaccines via Australia or via the COVAX program led by the WHO.
Pacific public health expert Colin Tukuitonga told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that some data suggests the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine in preventing infections “is clearly less than what is reported for Pfizer and AstraZeneca.”
Clinical trials around the world suggest that Sinovac and Sinopharm’s inactivated virus vaccines are about 50 percent to 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic CCP virus infections. In comparison, studies suggest the Pfizer vaccine can be 95 percent effective after two doses, and that the AstraZeneca vaccine is 76 percent effective.
Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program, told CNN late in July that despite being presented with a great opportunity to build influence without requiring large expenses, the CCP appeared to have been “missing in action” and its efforts had been “tokenistic” amid the pandemic.
Data from British analytics company Airfinity in late July per CNN showed that the CCP has so far donated 270,000 vaccines to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu—less than half the amount donated by Australia.
In China, more than 1.62 billion doses of CCP virus vaccines have been administered, with more than 223 million people fully vaccinated. Despite high levels of vaccination in a country of 1.39 billion people, new outbreaks have recently appeared in 21 cities from seven provinces, including Nanjing, Beijing, Guangdong, Anhui, and Liaoning.
The latest round of outbreak since July 20 has seen 185 local CCP Virus cases reported in Nanjing as of Friday. A spokesperson for the Nanjing government dodged a question at a Friday press conference as to how many of the 185 infected patients had been vaccinated.
Chinese official media China News had reported that 22 out of the first 35 local cases in Nanjing were among employees of the Nanjing Lukou International Airport, which belongs to Eastern Airports Group. According to Eastern Airports, as of May 12, the total number of employees vaccinated was 9,251, representing a vaccination rate of 90.87 percent.
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.