Less than two weeks after China’s conditional approval of Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine, the chairman and a director at the state-owned drug company suddenly resigned on the same day for “personal reasons.” The unexpected news fueled public speculation and doubts over the quality of the Chinese-made vaccine.
On Jan. 12, Sinopharm Group Co. issued two consecutive announcements, stating that Li Zhiming, chairman of Sinopharm Holding Corporation, and Li Hui, director and general manager of Sinopharm Group Pharmaceutical Co., a subsidiary, have resigned due to “personal reasons.”
The announcement also stated that the resignations will take effect immediately. The board of directors elected Yu Qingming as acting chairman on the same day. Since November 2018, Yu has served as executive director and secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s committee within the company. Previously, he worked as the secretary to CCP officials of the National Medical Products Administration.
In addition, the announcement stated that although Li Hui holds 54.72 percent of Sinopharm’s shares, his stock ownership will not have a significant adverse effect on the company’s operations, and it will not impact the board of directors.
According to public information on the company’s official website, there are six listed companies under it.
News of the dual resignations caused Sinopharm’s stock share to fluctuate. Share prices closed at 42.96 yuan (about $6.64), down 5.17 percent, on Jan. 13.
As the Sinopharm vaccine is being administered urgently all over China amid the recent surge of COVID-19 outbreaks, the executives’ sudden resignation sparked much public speculation.
A Chinese netizen expressed disbelief and concern, “Resign for personal reasons? I’m shaking ….”
Another netizen raised suspicion: “As soon as the vaccine was released, two senior officials … were gone. There must be something huge behind it!”
China affairs commentator Hua Po told The Epoch Times that he believes Chinese-made vaccines have a poor reputation and this might have something to do with the sudden shake-up of Sinopharm’s upper management.
“I have not heard of any Chinese official taking the lead to be vaccinated with the Chinese vaccines. Many Chinese people say that they will only get injected with the Chinese vaccines only after all the government officials get it themselves. Now it’s all about the Chinese company and its vaccine’s credibility,” Hua said.
Sinopharm didn’t provide any breakdown of its clinical trial data, nor disclose the size of its testing sample.
Another COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Beijing-based drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, is also under scrutiny. The recent trial of CoronaVac in Brazil reported only about a 50.4 percent effective rate, just enough to pass the 50 percent threshold set by the World Health Organization for regulatory approval. It was far lower than initial claims announced last week that touted a 78 percent efficacy rate.
Hua recalled that there was public confusion around how Sinopharm’s vaccine would be administered. After the vaccine was launched, the CCP officially stated that the vaccine was given to Chinese people free of charge. However, in less than a week, people were being charged for the vaccine and this sparked outrage across the country. Then the officials announced that they would subsidize the vaccines so that people wouldn’t have to pay out-of-pocket to get inoculated.
Hua believes that there is a power struggle that is currently playing out within the CCP, and Sinopharm, which is a state-owned enterprise, is part of it. He said that officials are being removed from their posts under CCP leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. And the sudden resignations at Sinopharm seem to mirror this move.
“There is another round of anti-corruption purges right now. Two days ago, three senior officials at the deputy ministerial level in Beijing and Liaoning were dismissed. All of the CCP officials are corrupt,” he said.
Luo Ya contributed to the report.