China's COVID-19 vaccines don't appear to be effective at preventing outbreaks in the real world

Vaccination in Bahrain
(Image credit: Mazen Mahdi/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization recently granted emergency use approval to China's Sinopharm and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines, but the countries that have put the Chinese-made vaccines in the arms of their residents are reporting mixed results, at best.

"In the Seychelles, Chile, and Uruguay, all of whom have used Sinopharm or ... Sinovac in their mass vaccination efforts, cases have surged even as doses were given out," The Washington Post reports. And in Bahrain, one of the first countries to embrace the Sinopharm shot, The Wall Street Journal adds, "daily COVID-19 deaths have leapt to 12 per million people in recent weeks — an outbreak nearly five times more lethal than India's — prompting the island nation's government to shut down shopping malls and restaurants in an effort to limit the spread."

Dr. Waleed Khalifa al Manea, Bahrain's undersecretary of health, told the Journal that the recent upsurge in cases "came mainly from family gatherings — we had Ramadan, which is a very social event in Bahrain," but he also said the country is urging older people and those with chronic illness to get a six-month booster shot with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Bahrain and the neighboring United Arab Emirates started offering booster shots in late May "after studies showed that some of those vaccinated had not developed sufficient antibodies," the Post reports.

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"In Dubai, the most populous of the seven members of the UAE, the emirate's health authorities have also quietly begun revaccinating with Pfizer-BioNTech those residents who had been fully inoculated with Sinopharm," the Journal reports.

"Despite the concern about Sinopharm's effectiveness, experts say the vaccine still works as intended in most cases and that it could play a significant role in shortages of vaccine doses around the world," the Post reports. The WHO says it has a low level of confidence in the vaccine's effectiveness in older people, due to a lack of data.

A peer-reviewed study published May 26 found the Sinopharm vaccine was 78 percent effective against symptomatic illness, but the trial participants were mostly healthy young men, the Journal reports. "In a separate, unpublished, real-world study of Sinopharm in Serbia, 29 percent of 150 participants were found to have zero antibodies against the virus three months after they received the first of two shots of the vaccine. The average age of the people who participated in the Serbian study was higher than 65."

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