Criticize the Chinese vaccine, and its machinery will find a way to discredit you. This is what China seems to be doing right now. Instead of talking about the facts and releasing more information about its vaccine efficacy data, the Chinese companies and state media are trying to twist the information in their favour.
Concentration on the developing world
According to a report in CNN, China has been praised for its decision to focus on the developing countries for the distribution of the Covid vaccine. The decision is in contrast with the western drug makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, whose vaccine is being rolled out in the United States. The Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac have produced vaccines that do not require expensive cold storage. The other vaccines developed by western countries require cold storage. All these factors have talked in favour of the Chinese vaccines, but the story is slowly turning on its head.
Insufficient data and mismatch in efficacy reports
Both Sinopharm and Sinovac have repeatedly claimed that their vaccines have over 78% efficacy, which is much higher than what WHO has set (50%) for approval for distribution among the general public. If we go by the numbers stated by these companies, it is higher compared to the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine and second to mRNA-based vaccines developed in the US. Notably, both vaccines need cold storage and difficult to distribute.
However, the efficacy data coming from different regions are raising concerns. As per reports, the last-stage trials of the Sinovac vaccine in Brazil noted that the vaccine’s efficacy is around 50.38% and not 78% as claimed by China. The true efficacy rate is still unclear. Interestingly, Turkey reported an efficacy rate for the same vaccine at 91.25%, and Indonesia reported 65.3%. In its recent statements, Brazil said that the level of efficacy is greater in some cases compared to others.
As a result of the mismatch in numbers and uncertainty over the data available in the public domains, some countries have decided to put the vaccine under review and pause the rollouts. The scientists have urged the company to release more information.
Role of Chinese officials and media in promoting vaccines
China has made its vaccines a matter of national pride. It looks like the country is trying to win back the ‘trust’ world had before it grossly mismanaged the Wuhan virus outbreak back in January 2020. China has been accused of silencing the whistleblowers and punishing those who have said anything against the country related to the Covid-19 spread.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin is using his social media presence to put Chinese vaccines at a higher ground. While blaming Western media in an op-ed, Hu claimed that the major media in Western countries, including the US, are publishing negative information on China-made vaccine. He added, “The press is out to destroy the reputation of the Chinese vaccine, hoping that the world will wait for Pfizer and other American and Western companies to produce surplus vaccines and finally get vaccinated.”
China blamed Western media for downplaying deaths related to the Covid-19 vaccine
Global Times is not talking about the effectiveness of the vaccine while defending but trying to bring down the reputation of the western pharma companies. In a recent editorial, he claimed that the western media is downplaying the deaths in Norway that are allegedly linked to the vaccines. “Those major Western media will immediately hype any unfavorable information about Chinese vaccines and try to amplify their impact on public psychology,” he wrote.
Media houses rushing in linking deaths to vaccination
Ethically, media houses based out of anywhere, including China, the US, India or else, should not rush to report on deaths possibly linking them to vaccines. Some outlets have been criticized for sensationalizing the allergic reactions to vaccines or reporting vaccines related deaths without evidence to link the death to the vaccine.
Allergic reactions to any vaccines happen quite often. All vaccines come with a set of side effects categorized in common and rare, and it may lead to death in case of a severe reaction. However, it does not mean that one should call the vaccine unsafe.
Inside, the articles that have sensational headlines linking deaths to vaccines often clarify that the case might be different and the death may not be directly related to the vaccination. However, the headline put a different perspective and unfortunately, people do not read the whole article. It gives a false impression that the Covid-19 vaccines are not safe.
Take the example of the Indian mainstream media. So far, India has immunized over 2.5 lakh people across the country. There have been a very limited number of allergic reactions reported, along with few deaths. While the media houses have jumped to connect death to the vaccine, there was no proof that the shot caused the death of the vaccinated person.
On January 18, several news agencies reported that a 48-year-old ward boy died in Uttar Pradesh after taking the vaccine. However, the autopsy report released by the health department on January 17, a day before media reported it, clearly stated that the death was not linked to the vaccination. He died due to already existing carcinogenic and septicaemic shock due to an existing cardiopulmonary disease.
A similar attempt was made by Congress supporter Saket Gokhle who tried to sensationalize the fact that pregnant women must avoid taking the Covid-19 vaccine claiming the information was not available to the general public before.
Highly deplorable to over-react, entice fear & spread misinformation without performing an iota of due diligence.— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) January 19, 2021
These facts have been in public domain since the beginning:https://t.co/fxQ71QJyU2
Follow @MoHFW_INDIA to stay informed & do some research before speaking out. https://t.co/hFNAk9jFoV
Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan shot down his claims and said that the information is available on the ground. He also shared a tweet thread from January 15 in which it was clearly mentioned who should avoid the vaccine.
Clearly as naive & presumptuous as boorish!— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) January 20, 2021
It’s OBVIOUS, Govt advisory shared on social media is made available at ground level first.
It is evident your propensity for unfruitful discourse has no bounds, no point in expecting you to focus your energy on anything constructive. https://t.co/KedVYNJO7d
China has been trying to influence the Indian media. In the last few years, China has been accused of paying foreign journalists, including India, to write positive reports about it. The mainstream media in India has carried propaganda articles to put the Chinese government in a good light. At the same time, they have tried to downplay India’s efforts to block China’s hold on any sector in India, including pharmacy. The recent spike in anti-vaccine content in the mainstream media raises several questions about the intentions of the media outlets in India.