NEW DELHI: From the source of Covid-19 to the efficacy of its vaccines, Chinese failure to disclose facts puts the world in danger. Amesh Adalja, a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, answers some of the related queries.
Q: China developed two primary coronavirus vaccines: Sinovac and Sinopharm, however, there is uncertainty about the effectiveness of these vaccines particularly against the Delta variant. How much effective these vaccines would be against the deadly Delta variant?
Adalja: It's very unclear because we don't have a good understanding of their efficacy against any version of the virus because there hasn't been a lot published on these vaccines. And when I say published, I mean in peer-reviewed medical journals, looking at phase three clinical trial data in a medical journal, there hasn't really been much of that with the Chinese vaccines. So, it's hard to even know what the baseline efficacy is. And then you would expect that the efficacy drops off somewhat against the Delta Variant. But it may be the case that while there may be more breakthrough infections with these Chinese vaccines. The Chinese vaccines are durable enough to prevent what really matters: preventing hospitalizations.
Q: China is ready to share the Covid-19 vaccine, but showing reluctance in sharing the data showing how effective they are. Is this a deliberate attempt to hide the weak efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm?
Adalja: I don't know if it's a deliberate attempt, but it's just the lack of transparency. And we know, for example, that the Chinese CDC director, Dr. Gao has said that the Chinese vaccines are not as efficacious as other versions. Chinese government officials have said that publicly. So, I think that's not a question, we want to know what the efficacy number is, and just kind of be able to delve into the data and understand all the nuances regarding it, that's why we need this data. But they obviously have submitted some data to the World Health Organization in order to get an emergency listing. But again, this is something that we want to see in the medical peer-reviewed literature, to be able to really compare it, to think about it, to advise people on the efficacy and the safety of these vaccines.
Q: China is heavily pushing its vaccine diplomacy among nations to augment its international influence. Do you feel it would bring negative results, denting the overall global immunity against coronavirus?
Adalja: I think the Chinese vaccine clearly has some level of efficacy. How good it is? It is unclear, but in a world in which there are not enough vaccines, I think that they are making strides with immunity by their global vaccine diplomacy efforts. What I would say is that sometimes their global vaccine diplomacy efforts are tied to countries de-recognizing Taiwan, which I think is really deplorable, but in general, the more people that are vaccinated, even if it's with the lower efficacious or a lower efficacy vaccine, the better it is, because it does appear that the Chinese vaccines do prevent serious illness, which is really the main thing that vaccines are designed to do.
Q: But why are the Chinese showing reluctance in sharing the data?
Adalja: I don't know why they are reluctant to share the data. I think that this is not doing them any favors, but we've seen a lack of transparency with the Chinese government, from the very beginning of this pandemic. And we know that these Chinese vaccines were initially given to their military where there may not have been the ability to truly consent to them.
Q: China has not allowed WHO to investigate the source of coronavirus. Do you think it is against international norms and rules-based order that respects multilateral bodies?
Adalja: I don't think that China is respecting an international norm. I think it is very important to understand the origin of this virus. And I think it's very important for countries that have outbreaks to be transparent with the world because we're not going to face just this pandemic. There are going to be future pandemics. And we need to learn more about how coronavirus has jumped from animals and bats to humans. And, we also need to know about lab biosafety. And I think the Chinese government's lack of transparency has made it much more difficult to find the origin. And I think that they're pointing fingers back at the United States, which makes no sense, they're pointing fingers at frozen food that makes no sense. So, this is something I think we need to have an independent, transparent investigation because this is going to inform our future pandemic preparedness efforts. And I think that this lack of transparency needs to be identified for what it is.
Q: So, you believe that an independent investigation agency is important to find out the origin of coronavirus.
Adalja: At least attempt to try and find it out to understand what animal, if there is an intermediate animal between bats and humans. Also, to understand what types of biosafety procedures were in place at the Wuhan Institute of virology. What types of viruses were being worked on? All of that is very important to help us understand how this virus caused a worldwide pandemic.
Q: China will not allow visitors to enter the country unless they have been vaccinated with a Chinese-made vaccine. What would be the result if other countries follow the same method, denying Chinese vaccine inoculated people entry?
Adalja: I think this is the wrong way to go about it. Many of these vaccines are efficacious, not just one type of vaccine. And I think that is why it's necessary that the Chinese government publishes the data on those vaccines so that you can actually see how efficacious they are. Right now, in the United States, we do allow people in, even if they're not vaccinated, and many universities will accept the Chinese vaccines because they have WHO emergency listings. It's silly for China to not accept people that have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson's vaccines. So, I think we want a data-driven approach, and we want to end these travel restrictions. And the best way to do that is for people to start allowing vaccinated people, to get back to their pre-pandemic life, and to have data on all of the vaccines to see how they're holding up against the Delta variant. (IANS)