Nations worldwide are competing to roll out covid 19 treatments as a global vaccine race is underway. China has tapped into the high-stake game, aiming to secure the first-mover advantage and dominate the global vaccine market with the "Chinese-made". But Pfizer and Moderna's recent announcement on its vaccine candidates' success has put the US drug makers at the head of the pack, threatening China's hope and ambition to claim the global science superiority by winning the covid-19 vaccine race.
China was seemingly leading the global vaccine competition by having four out of nine candidates in phase 3 trials. The traditional inactivated vaccine technology used is considered more prudent and protective. China's drug maker CNBG announced the efficacy of its vaccine in early Sept, well ahead of Pfizer and Moderna, by claiming "hundreds of thousands have taken the shots and no one has shown any obvious adverse effects or get infected."
However, the announcement had barely sparked any excitement from the scientific community longing for a breakthrough but caused concerns over unverified claims instead. "It meant nothing," said Dr. Vipul Chowdhary, technical lead at leading biomedical think tank Policy Cures Research. "Only an adequately designed Phase Three trial showing a clear and statistically significant benefit in the intervention arm compared to placebo can prove the effectiveness."
Both Pfizer and Modena have provided detailed analysis proving the claim of over 95% efficacy. In the Pfizer study, 170 out of over 43000 trial participants with diverse backgrounds contracted Covid, but 162 were on placebo while only eight on the vaccine. Moderna study reveals that among the 95 covid 19 cases from a pool of 30,000 volunteers, only five were from the vaccine group while the remaining from the placebo – including 11 cases of severe disease. The data provide strong evidence the vaccine has induced the immune response that protects 95 percent of people exposed to the coronavirus.
However, none of the Chinese frontrunners have published any preliminary findings from Phase 3 trials, as Pfizer and Moderna have done. Over 40,000 volunteers from China's politically friendly but low-income countries in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have joined the CNBG phase 3 trials in exchange for early access to the vaccine. However, the study seems struggling to release the trial data that include methodology and protocols or interim analytical results, possibly due to these countries' healthcare system's inadequacy in monitoring trial participants and tracking the vaccine's impact.
The lack of transparency led to concerns over safety risks caused by corner-cutting, preventing the vaccine from entering the global market. China's credibility has taken another major hit after it inoculated the population with the vaccine outside of the clinical trial, sparking global backlash over safety, legality, and ethnicity issues. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said, in referring to CNBG’s clinical trial, China lacks credibility and people wouldn't feel safe with the shot "due to its origin." The US top infectious diseases official Anthony Fauci said it was unlikely that the US would use vaccines developed by China or Russia, given their regulatory systems were far more opaque than those in the West.
It is unfortunate and sad that in the global vaccine industry that values transparency and scientific integrity, China, despite its prowess in the inactive vaccine, is struggling to gain recognition and achieve its much-coveted leading position.
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