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Top Chinese official admits vaccines have low effectiveness

Gao Fu, director of the China Centers for Disease Control, speaks at the National Vaccines and Health conference in Chengdu in southwest China’s Sichuan province Saturday, April 10, 2021. In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, Gao the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost. (Chinatopix Via AP)

By JOE McDONALD and HUIZHONG WU, BEIJING (AP) — China’s top disease control official, in a rare acknowledgement, said current vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus and mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness.
China has distributed hundreds of millions of doses of domestically made vaccines abroad and is relying on them for its own mass immunization campaign. But the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said at a conference Saturday their efficacy rates needed improving. “We will solve the issue that current vaccines don’t have very high protection rates,” Gao said in a presentation on Chinese COVID-19 vaccines and immunization strategies at a conference in the southwestern city of Chengdu. “It’s now under consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process.” He also praised the benefits of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind the two vaccines seen as the most effective, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, months after questioning whether the then-unproven method was safe.
In a message to The Associated Press, Gao said late Sunday night he was speaking about the effectiveness rates for “vaccines in the world, not particularly for China.” He did not respond to further questions about which vaccines he was referring to. He directed the AP to an interview he did with the state-owned Global Times, which has published several articles raising doubts about the safety of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. Gao was quoted by the outlet Sunday as saying he was misunderstood and merely talking in general terms about improving vaccine efficacy. Beijing earlier tried to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which uses genetic code called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to prime the immune system. Health officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or about possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said Chinese developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines. “The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial stage,” said the official, Wang Huaqing. He gave no timeline for possible use.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Gao concluded his presentation Saturday with praise for mRNA vaccines and called for innovation in research. He also praised the benefits of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind the two vaccines seen as the most effective, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, months after questioning whether the then-unproven method was safe. In a message to The Associated Press, Gao said late Sunday night he was speaking about the effectiveness rates for “vaccines in the world, not particularly for China.” He did not respond to further questions about which vaccines he was referring to. He directed the AP to an interview he did with the state-owned Global Times, which has published several articles raising doubts about the safety of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. Gao was quoted by the outlet Sunday as saying he was misunderstood and merely talking in general terms about improving vaccine efficacy.
Beijing earlier tried to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which uses genetic code called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to prime the immune system. Health officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or about possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said Chinese developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines. “The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial stage,” said the official, Wang Huaqing. He gave no timeline for possible use. Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

(Gao concluded his presentation Saturday with praise for mRNA vaccines and called for innovation in research.)

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