China’s Sinopharm Claims COVID-19 Vaccine has 79% Efficacy

Sinopharm_VCG/VCG via Getty Images

VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Sinopharm, a Chinese biopharmaceutical company controlled by the state, announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate had an efficacy rate of 79% based on interim analysis of Phase III trials. The vaccine was developed by Sinopharm’s Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm. The company indicated it has submitted an application for authorization to Chinese regulators.

China has already moved ahead with mass vaccinations, even before there was evidence of efficacy and safety. They have stated plans to vaccinate 50 million people in China by mid-February. Reportedly it has already been injected into hundreds of thousands of people.

There have been doubts about the Sinopharm vaccine and little transparency about the data. Even the company’s announcement is only a few sentences long with no breakdown of data.

In a November 20 statement on WeChat, a social media platform, the chairman of Sinopharm, Liu Zingzhen, said, “In emergency use the vaccine had been given to Chinese construction workers, diplomats, and students who have gone to more than 150 countries around the world during the pandemic—and none of them reported an infection.”

As of November 6, Liu Zingzhen stated 56,000 people who had received the vaccinations had then traveled overseas.

“For example,” he said, “a transnational company has 99 employees in one of its overseas offices, of whom 81 were vaccinated. And later, an outbreak broke out in the office, 10 of the 18 people who were not vaccinated were infected and none of those vaccinated were infected.”

In clinical trials, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the U.S., have efficacy rates of approximately 95%. Pfizer-BioNTech’s has received authorization in more than 40 countries, including the U.K. and Canada. Moderna’s is under evaluation in most countries. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine reportedly has a 91% efficacy rate. The 79% figure by Sinopharm is lower than the 86% that was reported by the United Arab Emirates on December 9 for the same vaccine. The UAE results were from an interim analysis of Phase III trials conducted in the country since July. It has been approved for public use there.

The AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine was authorized in the U.K. today. It is the first authorization for that vaccine, although the efficacy rate is not completely clear. Like all of these vaccines so far, it requires two doses. In one of the clinical trials, about 1800 participants accidentally received a half-dose for their first dose. That group reported a 90% efficacy. However, the rest of the cohorts who received the full first dose reported efficacy of about 62%. They have averaged them to claim efficacy of 70.4%. It is still unclear why the disparity, although the 70.4% efficacy is still quite good, considering that most regulators said they were looking for at least 50% efficacy to approve a vaccine.

The lack of data on the part of the Chinese company is consistent with the country’s lack of transparency during the pandemic, which is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan. A study recently reported that the actual number of cases in Wuhan earlier this year may have been 10 times the reported count. The research was conducted by China’s public health authority.

“With each of these vaccines we’re dealing with bits and pieces of information, but the Chinese companies have provided even less information than the Russian companies have,” Kim Mulholland, a pediatrician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, told The New York Times. “At least with the Russian vaccines we were told the number of cases and the basis of evidence for why their vaccine was effective.”

Another Chinese company, Sinovac, has similarly released very little actual data about the efficacy and safety of its own COVID-19 vaccine. This hasn’t stopped Chinese officials from dosing the public with them, with a focus on what China dubs “key priority groups,” meaning doctors, hotel employees, border inspection personnel and food storage and transportation workers.

Both Sinovac and Sinopharm use traditional vaccine technology that employs inactivated coronaviruses—treating the SARS-CoV-2 viruses with chemicals to disrupt its genes so it can’t replicate. Moderna and Pfizer both use new technology that leverages mRNA that codes for the virus’s spike protein, and is delivered into the body in a nanolipid particle, basically a tiny fat particle.

Although the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines are tried-and-true technology, it requires working with large batches of live coronavirus samples, which is an enormous biosecurity risk. Once the live samples are inactivated, an extra step in the manufacturing process is required to make sure that none survived the process.

Back to news