When pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna said that they are currently working on their booster shots, the drug regulators in China have completed an expert panel review of the Fosun-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for a booster shot.
In China, the drug regulators have completed an expert panel review of another Covid-19 vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma. As per Fosun, currently, the mRNA vaccine is in the stage of administration review. Since China is reportedly vaccinating millions of people per day using Siniovac's CoronaVac and Sinopharm jab, the question is now that why the country which also sent made-in-China jabs to other nations need another vaccine to get approved.
In April, the chief executive of BioNTech—the same company which partnered with American drugmaker Pfizer to develop the mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 (with over 90 per cent efficacy)—Ugur Sahin said that he expected the Covid-19 vaccine would get a green signal from the Chinese authorities by June. As reported by Caixin, Fosun Chairman Wu Yifang said on 14 July during a meeting with shareholders that the company plans to begin the domestic trial production of this vaccine by the end of August 2021. People close to regulators informed Caixin that the vaccine, known as Comirnaty, will be used as a booster shot for people who had inactivated virus vaccines, which includes both Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs.
This comes at a time when Pfizer and another American company Moderna said that they are currently working on their booster shots. Meanwhile, Pfizer said that it would share data about the booster dose and submit it to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and other regulatory agencies for approval.
According to Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the booster is needed as it was found that "vaccine efficacy in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease has declined six months post-vaccination, although efficacy in preventing serious illnesses remains high". But the American federal agencies recently confirmed that people who have received two doses of vaccines do not need the booster.
It is not clear whether China is worried about the efficacy decline of Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines in the coming months or the move to approve the Comirnaty shot is just for the sake of being in competition against Pfizer and Moderna. It is also possible that since the Delta variant—which, according to reports, has reduced the efficacy of popular jabs—is spreading like wildfire around the world, China is preparing itself with a booster jab. However, there is no data available about the efficacy of both the Chinese vaccines against this variant, as Sinopharm and Sinovac have said they are currently studying the Delta variant.
As reported, both the vaccine makers in China have advised that following their current two-dose regimens, a third shot—booster dose—may be required to increase the protection. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Sinovac's sales executive, who did not want to be identified, said that determining how much protection its CoronaVac vaccine provides against Delta has become a major priority for the company, despite the fact that setting up additional research abroad may take months.
China has administered more than a billion doses of its vaccines—Sinopharm and Sinovac—to its residents and sent millions of doses to more than 80 countries. It means that China has enough confidence in these vaccines. But if that is the case, then why it is prioritising Fosun-BioNTech's booster instead of considering Sinopharm or Sinovac's third shot. Since there are transparency issues in China, it is currently impossible to understand the reason.
Chinese Vaccines And The World
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Sinopharm's vaccine efficacy for symptomatic and hospitalised diseases was estimated to be 79 per cent. When the WHO approved the Sinovac vaccine for individuals aged 18 and older in June, the United Nations health agency said that the trials showed it prevented symptomatic disease in 51 per cent of those vaccinated and severe Covid-19, as well as hospitalisation in 100 per cent of the investigated population. Some early reports claimed that the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine could offer immunity for nine months, while Sinovac's jab protects people for at least six months.
Some countries that chose the Chinese vaccines have high vaccination rates, yet infection rates are still rising. For example, in response to the Delta variant, Chile reinstated curfews and travel restrictions, even though 70 per cent of Chileans are fully vaccinated, with the Sinovac vaccine being the most common. Seychelles and Mongolia have recently experienced some of the largest increases in Covid-19 cases per capita. Both rely heavily on Sinopharm—in Seychelles, 68 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, while 55 per cent in Mongolia.
Thailand has changed its vaccine policy to combine Sinovac with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in an attempt to boost protection after hundreds of medical workers became infected with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac.
Meanwhile, the main doctors and nurses' association in Indonesia reported that despite receiving two doses of the Sinovac vaccine, at least 30 healthcare workers died. The country is now planning to switch to different Covid-19 vaccines for second doses or administer booster shots to increase effectiveness.
However, recently the WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned against mixing and combining Covid-19 vaccines from different manufacturers while calling such practices a "dangerous trend" due to lack of data.