Home Commentary 2020 is the craziest year to date and we’re buying our vaccines...

2020 is the craziest year to date and we’re buying our vaccines from China?

Terrible, terrible year. Mercury retrograde pales in comparison to 2020. It’s the year when even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, hand-in-hand with God’s 10 curses on Egypt, had to park along the curb to give way to this herd of fang-spangled mammoths stampeding across the world.

The year took us from one bizarre episode to the other: The appearance of ‘murder’ hornets (Asian Giant Hornet), Kanye West announcing a presidential bid (then dropping out shortly after), a star 75 million light years away suddenly nowhere to be found, the discovery of a killer asteroid heading toward Earth, a monkey who stole COVID-19 samples, the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record, the discovery of a metal monolith in Utah, to say nothing of COVID-19 infected dead minks dying and later rising from the grave.

This is a zombie apocalypse in all of 45 centimeters. And lest we forget, all that World War III scares between China and the United States. The only good thing coming out of 2020 is the rumor than Kim Jong Un of North Korea is dead. Sadly, it’s a rumor. But then again, there’s Joe Biden winning the US presidential race.

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at the tail end of 2019 from Wuhan, China, and infected, as of this writing, roughly 60.3 million globally, with a death toll of 1.42 million.

In the Philippines, it all began when the historic and majestic Taal, long dormant, suddenly deciding to go boom in January. And then an ostrich, a pig and a peacock, from out of the stinking blue, decided to take a stroll down our main streets. Like Noah’s Ark landed somewhere in EDSA and opened its doors.

It’s waking up every single day to a world in the thick of trying to survive the biblical Apocalypse. It seems, the only one who hasn’t yet shown his face is the Antichrist, although for many conspiracy theorists, that’s highly debatable. Think Trump. The unkempt orange mane is a dead giveaway.

And then one day you’re faced with the news that the Philippine government is planning to purchase 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech.

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However, the said vaccines just passed the country’s Phase 3 clinical trials, barely out of the lab, so to speak. Regardless of potential risks, a proposal was submitted by Sinovac Biotech to the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How the vaccines would turn out is anybody’s guess.

Here are some things we ought to know before diving headlong into Chinese vaccine products. One, about 700 million doses of vaccine of different kinds are produced in China annually.

The country is the largest manufacturer of vaccines, a good bulk of them deemed as Category One: government-purchased doses. Category 2 are private-sector vaccines purchased out-of-pocket. Most of these vaccines are in common use around the world.

The CoronaVac seems to be the “official” vaccine developed by Sinovac. However, another vaccine, an “unofficial” one, is gaining pace in the market and has been produced to safeguard front-line medical staff.

A vendor at Pritil Public Market gets a free swab test amid the new coronavirus outbreak, in Tondo, Manila, Philippines, Oct. 8. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

The rollout in September of this unofficial vaccine was spearheaded by its producer, state-owned SinoPharm. At the time, it was still on its experimental stage.

TIME magazine quoted Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor focusing in global health security at the University of Sydney, as saying: “This is insane. It is just unsound public health practice. We have previous examples of where vaccines that have not gone through sufficient clinical trials have demonstrated adverse reactions with long-term health consequences.”

TIME’s Shanghai correspondent Charlie Campbell noticed that not only could this steamroller stoke another anti-vaxxer movement, it could prove disastrous to China whose COVID-19 cases dropped significantly since the virus’ appearance in December 2019.

Hence, Stage 3 trials conducted on a population largely relieved of the infection may not generate accurate results.

Campbell writes: “So why is China so aggressively rolling out vaccines? For the Beijing government, the fight against the pandemic has become a PR battle to drown out international criticism about its early mishandling, coverup and silencing of whistleblowers. Instead, China wants to rebrand itself as a source of vital PPE and, ultimately, a solution to the crisis.”

As one global health expert from Australia also said: “Unfortunately, I just see politics at play here rather than public health.”

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken Oct. 30. (Photo by Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

My question is: Would the Duterte administration be able to tell apart an efficient vaccine to one rolled out for propaganda purposes?

China, unfortunately, is no stranger to vaccine production controversies.

In 2018, the medical journal The Lancet reported China’s “worst public health crisis in years” after Chinese vaccine maker, Changsheng Biotechnology, “was found to have fabricated production and inspection records and to have arbitrarily changed process parameters and equipment during its production of freeze-dried human rabies vaccines.

“Furthermore, substandard diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) vaccines produced by Changsheng Biotechnology were administered to 215,184 Chinese children; and 400,520 substandard DPT vaccines produced by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products were sold in Hebei and Chongqing. On July 25, China’s drug regulator launched an investigation into all vaccine producers across the country. Fifteen people from Changsheng Biotechnology, including the chairman, have been detained by Chinese authorities.”

The journal adds: “This latest vaccine scandal follows on from a series of fake and substandard food and drugs issues in China. As a result, many parents have lost faith in the vaccine system. Although no cases of death or other severe consequences relevant to the substandard rabies and DPT vaccines have been documented as of July 31, the substandard vaccines have been reported as being poisonous in social media and on the internet.”

Five years earlier, sometime December 2013, eight Chinese children had died, one in a hospital in Sichuan province, after being vaccinated against hepatitis B. The vaccine was manufactured by BioKangtai, a Chinese drug company operating in the southern city of Shenzhen.

The BBC report further said, “One more child in Meishan City, Sichuan, died on Monday, less than 24 hours after receiving a hepatitis B vaccine made by a different company, Xinhua said. Beijing Tiantan Biological Products Co., Ltd. is a major supplier of free hepatitis B vaccine. The Chinese authorities suspended the use of the BioKangtai vaccine on Friday, Xinhua reports.”

Many Chinese had since then been skeptical about government health programs and safety assurances during outbreaks of disease. The massive state-instigated coverups during the SARS outbreak in 2002 created these serious trust issues between the Chinese people and their government.

A security guard holds a thermometer at Yingqian village of Pudong district, amid the global outbreak of the new coronavirus in Shanghai, China on Nov. 25. (Photo by Aly Song/Reuters)

Allow me to cap this with another health controversy in China discovered in May 2016: “China was rocked last month by another public health scandal, after Chinese police announced the discovery of a criminal organization selling millions of improperly stored vaccines in 24 provinces and municipalities. The affected vaccines have a total value of 570 million yuan (U.S.$88 million) and include many of the most common inoculations, ranging from hepatitis to rabies. While the vaccines were made by approved manufacturers, police reported that they were not refrigerated or transported according to regulations, rendering them at best useless and at worst dangerous.”

My proposal: If the Duterte administration is hellbent on purchasing vaccines from China, the FDA must, even now, create a blueprint of safeguards should these vaccines prove inefficient, or worse, dangerous.

Our government should not play footsie with Chinese propaganda efforts to erase any and all negative public perception of its intentions. Vaccines are crucial in alleviating this global health crisis, and the best we can offer is our participation using the right frame of mind.

Joel Pablo Salud is an editor, journalist and the author of several books of fiction and political nonfiction. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.

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