Is China lying about its COVID-19 vaccines? It appears so, and who is surprised? China has lied about many aspects of COVID-19 from the start, helping to cause millions of deaths and untold financial hardship. Over-hyping the efficacy of its vaccines would be just one more insult to the gullible globe.
And discovery of that duplicity would be one more embarrassment to President Xi Jinping.
Alarmed by a tidal wave of suspicion and fury, Xi launched a massive effort to distribute Chinese-made vaccines to more than 90 countries, beginning last fall. The roll-out of what was still an experimental inoculation was welcomed by many underdeveloped nations, even though China in some cases lent billions to those eager buyers, thereby not only extending a helping hand but also tightening its financial grip on the smaller countries.
The effort is akin to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, a public relations appeal to the developing world built on China’s financial clout. But like that giant infrastructure program, Xi’s “vaccine diplomacy” has turned out to be less beneficial than expected, both in helping countries avoid the virus and in generating good will for Beijing.
Recently, some of the nations that gladly accepted vaccines made by Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech have experienced sharp upsurges in cases. “In the Seychelles, Chile, Bahrain and Mongolia, 50 to 68 percent of the populations have been fully inoculated, outpacing the United States,” The New York Times recently reported. “All four ranked among the top 10 countries with the worst Covid outbreaks as recently as last week…And all four are mostly using shots made by two Chinese vaccine makers, Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech.”
In the Seychelles, the most vaccinated nation in the world, 57 percent took the Sinopharm shot. Doctors say the rate of infection in the tiny island country of 100,000 suggests the vaccine is about 50 percent effective, far short of the 78 percent efficacy touted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the company.
Israel, where the vaccination rate is similar to that of the Seychelles and Pfizer is the preferred shot, is currently recording under six new cases per million people daily; for the Seychelles, that figure is 2,613 per one million.
A study earlier this year in Brazil similarly tagged Sinovac’s efficacy at slightly above 50 percent, which is the cutoff for WHO approval. The poor results of both vaccines may account for health authorities announcing in April that they “were exploring ways to increase the efficacy of China’s shots…”
The WHO, as usual, appears to be covering for China. Asked to comment on the COVID surge in the Seychelles, a spokesperson described the situation as “complicated.”
That was a week after the WHO approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use, even though the company did not release stage three clinical trial data to its scientists. Not long after, the WHO also greenlighted the shot by Sinovac, despite the same lack of information and the poor showing in Brazil.
The thumbs-up from the WHO allowed China’s vaccines to be distributed through Covax, a global program to distribute shots to poor countries. Despite the public relations coup of getting approval for the initiative, China has allocated only 10 million doses to Covax; it has donated another 16.5 million shots directly. Beijing sold 691 million jabs to 84 countries, apparently enjoying revenues even more than good will.
Meanwhile, China says it has distributed roughly one billion vaccines to its own people; Chinese authorities can claim high effectiveness of their inoculations by pointing to their own low death toll from COVID-19 (unless, of course, that too is a lie).
Despite being at the epicenter of COVID-19, China reported to the WHO this week that a mere 118,000 of its 1.4 billion people contracted the coronavirus, and that the nation has suffered only 5,421 deaths.
Does anyone believe that? To do so requires ignoring videos of body bags streaming out of Wuhan’s hospitals in early 2020 and satellite images of unusually heavy traffic outside Wuhan’s hospitals in the fall of 2019.
We also have to overlook a (non-peer-reviewed) study published in June 2020 that concluded, “The estimates of cumulative deaths, based on both funeral urns distribution and continuous full capacity operation of cremation services up to March 23, 2020, give results around 36,000, more than 10 times the official death toll of 2,524.”
We also have to abandon common sense. The WHO figures would put deaths in China at 3.47 per million — the lowest among large nations around the world. The figure compares to 2,189 per million in Belgium, for instance, 1,910 in the UK and 1,826 in the U.S.
China’s “official” count puts it in the same bracket as Eritrea and Burundi, among the poorest nations in Africa, countries not likely to have a solid handle on their exposure to the virus. The only wealthy country even close to China’s numbers is New Zealand, an isolated island nation of 4.9 million that adopted draconian measures to isolate its people, with great success.
That did not happen in China. After the virus tore through Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, the government locked the city down, but that was after people had traveled not only to other parts of China but also to other nations.
Lying about COVID-19 – covering up its transmission from person to person and allowing its global spread – is one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity. And, as the world begins to suspect that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it may also become the greatest reputational disaster ever suffered by the Chinese government.
And now, doubts about their vaccines.
Xi called China’s vaccine a “global public good.” A better description might be: yet more evidence that China cannot be trusted. Someday let us hope the free world holds China and its leaders accountable.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.