The past two weeks has seen a massive promotional campaign for the Pfizer vaccine burst out from international and domestic mainstream media, highlighting its claim of 95% effectivity.
Side-by-side with the Pfizer boosting news is another U.S. company Moderna boasting of its vaccine’s 94% effectivity with some report qualifying it with “may be”. Other countries with vaccine alternatives have apparently been compelled to make similar, though slightly more conservative claims.
Days later, Russia’s Sputnik Covid-19 shot followed suit with the claim of 92% effectivity, and China’s top virologist Zhong Nanshan also came out to announce the more modest claim of at least 90% effectivity for the Chinese manufactured vaccines. The truth is, the more modest claims are more credible given the general scientific expectation of much lover standard of effectivity as I have learned reviewing the realistic evaluations of vaccines in general.
The high claims of effectivity made by Pfizer and Moderna seems to have compelled all the rest to make claims too in order to prevent any deleterious effects on their own vaccines that, by any silence may be interpreted as admission of much less effectivity that the claims made by the others. But there is reason to be cautious about the very high claims of effectivity as people may be lulled in making unnecessarily expensive choices and let their protective guard down unnecessarily.
Different vaccines for different diseases have different rates of effectivity.
Among several other discussions and reports on the subject I have reviewed let me quote from an August 2020 CNBC report citing the renowned member of the U.S. coronavirus team member Dr. Anthony Fauci and others on expected effectivity of vaccines: “Scientists are hoping for a coronavirus vaccine that is at least 75% effective, but 50% or 60% would be acceptable, too, he said.”
Flu vaccines, for example and I was surprised to learn, are not fool proof protection from flu as this US CDC explanation goes: “How effective is the flu vaccine? CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the influenza (flu) vaccine protects against flu illness.
While vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons…”
Problems of U.S. vax in global marketing push
The Philippines, like many other countries, is being targeted by a global U.S. marketing campaign for its vaccines.
My worry started when I was told by a very high officer of a national journalist’s organization close to the administration that there is a serious lobby by a Philippine senator to inveigle the Duterte administration to buy the Pfizer vaccine for the national vaccination program – which would be a huge disaster for the country.
Pfizer’s Covid 19 vaccines, aside from its stupendous effectivity claim, uses a new technological platform that results in a vaccine needing to be stored a negative or minus 70 degrees Celsius. The Boston Globe’s report on Pfizer’s vaccine, “Colder than Antarctica in winter: super colling concerns for the possible first Covid-19 vaccine”. Pfizer is frantically ordering quantities of super cooling equipment from China for its delivery requirements.
The world now sees that problem with the vaccines from the new technological platform, but there are other problems. The long term side effects U.S media reports is not completely known, though they also say that it is safe. The problem may be reflected in the many reports of severe discomforts experienced by Pfizer vaccine test volunteers, such as this report from the U.S.’s Science magazine, “Fever, aches from Pfizer, Moderna jabs are not dangerous but may be intense for some”.
This brings up the Moderna vaccine, which may not require the Antarctica level cold storage but still needs minus 20 degrees Celsius storage and last 30 days in refrigerated 2 to 8 degrees Celsius out of cold storage. Compare this to the Chinese vaccines that stay effective for two years stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius, as the vaccines are mainly produced through the tried and tested classical methods with equal effectivity and normal transport cold storage requirement.
The Covid-19 global pricing picture is not at all clear at this time. Generally, we are reading cited cost of the Pfizer and Moderna U.S. vaccines and application at between $ 30 to $ 70 per dose, but Johnson-and-Johnson is reported to cost $ 10 per dose. The Swedish-British AstraZeneca cost $ 3 to $ 4 according to the Financial Times, the Russian Sputnik is said to cost $ 4 per done. Actually, these prices being reported cannot reflect the final costs given the many considerations, they are merely indicative.
One report from Global Times report the Chinese SinoVac vaccine signed a $ 90-million contract to deliver 46 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine with Brazil’s Sao Paulo state in October 2020. It is thus speculated that the price of the Sinovac vaccine to Sao Paolo was $ 1.96 per dose, but this Sinovac denied without saying what its actually price was. This will be the real state of things on the pricing issue as that will be negotiated case-to-case, but the potential real prices can be gleamed from these reports.
Other Chinese reports of the various China made vaccines cite their own costs that generally fall in the vicinity of Yuan 1000 or around $ 14 per dose, but the variance shown by the Sao Paolo contract of Sinovac with the many other reports show that there is still a lot of room for speculation and negotiation for the vaccines in general and China’s vaccine manufactures and government with its “global public good” commitment in particular.
China’s vaccines most tested
Another vital measure of the viability and advisability of a vaccine will be the number of volunteers and patients it has been tested on, and on this score the U.S., European and Russian trials can only claim at this stage a few hundred thousand tested with their vaccines. This naturally will grow over time but none can match the vaccines produced by China’s pharmaceutical and medical companies in the number of test patients.
China’s Sinopharm vaccine has been received by nearly 1 million emergency users, front-liners and ordinary patients hence the basis for assessment of effectivity and safety is very wide and extensive already. Chinese vaccines have been in Phase III trials in the Middle East where health ministers have had themselves inoculated, in Latin America such as Brazil, in SEA in Indonesia and the Philippines. The basis for judging the efficacy and security of the vaccines is firmly established.
Global mainstream media have spotlighted the US vaccines at the expense of the other global manufacturers, but it is really the Chinese vaccines that have made the most headway and contribution to the world’s coronavirus hotspots at this time. We have already mentioned Sao Paolo, Brazil’s orders, but there is Indonesia which has ordered 430-million doses from three major Chinese companies which will find the 2-8 degrees Celcius storage requirement of Chinese vaccines most convenient.
Furthermore, as international writer Tom Fowdy noted in his piece “Why China’s vaccines are gaining international momentum” recently:
“Chinese vaccines have a competitive advantage in price and production capacity, allowing developing countries a route to escape the pandemic as fast as possible. Unlike the American firms, is not only about business; China has also pledged to donate billions of vaccines. Malaysia has signed up to become the first recipient of such under the WHO COVAX program and, of course, there will be more.
“Whilst the achievements of Moderna and Pzifer are widely lauded, in the end these companies only complete a part of the jigsaw in ending the COVID-19 crisis. Not everyone has the privilege or infrastructure to buy them. Thus, the achievements of SinoVac, CanSino and SinoPharm are set to play an instrumental role in making a difference for billions of people around the globe.”