Chile Keeps Faith in Sinovac COVID-19 Vaccine as Brazil Data Generates Jitters Elsewhere

By Aislinn Laing

January 15, 2021

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean authorities said on Thursday they remained confident in a vaccine developed by China's Sinovac despite jitters elsewhere after researchers in Brazil acknowledged that its efficacy was lower than initially suggested.

Rodrigo Yanez, the Chilean trade undersecretary tasked with procuring COVID vaccines for the country, said Chile's health regulator was assessing all the available data and would announce its decision on an emergency roll-out for the inoculation soon.

He said vaccines would serve their critical purpose if they helped diminish severe symptoms, hospitalisations and deaths.

This week, researchers in Brazil released late-stage trial clinical data showing the Sinovac vaccine was 50.4% effective at preventing symptomatic infections, including "very mild" cases. The previous week they said the vaccine, called CoronaVac, showed 78% efficacy against "mild-to-severe" cases.

"The numbers in Brazil are good though they could be misleading in terms of focusing only on the 50% because the target is to avoid people filling the hospitals and fatalities," he told Reuters in a telephone interview. "It should be very effective with the more severe symptoms of the disease, provided that the clinical data supports what was announced this week."

Chile paid $3.5 million to host a clinical trial of the vaccine and has also ordered 60 million doses to be administered to its 18 mln-strong population over three years.

The country's regulator sent two inspectors to the Sinovac factory in Beijing in November ahead of the expected arrival of the first doses in Chile in mid-January.

Chile has already started vaccinating its health workers using a Pfizer Inc developed shot and its regulator is also weighing approval of AstraZeneca's for emergency use.

The disappointing Brazilian efficacy news prompted Malaysia and Singapore, which also have purchase agreements with Sinovac, to say on Wednesday that they would seek more data from the Chinese firm on efficacy rates before they approved and bought supplies.

Sinovac vaccination campaigns are however already underway in Indonesia and Turkey, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan receiving the jab on Thursday.

Yanez told Reuters that the Chilean Public Health Institute would look at the data from Brazil as well as Turkey and Indonesia, which reported efficacy of 91.25% and 65.3% efficacy respectively based on interim trial data.

He said Sinovac's vaccine wasn't the only one which has raised doubts, pointing to experts in Australia who had questioned whether herd immunity could be achieved from the 62% efficacy reported for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"The common flu vaccine is between 50% and 60% effective – we run massive vaccination campaigns with those levels of efficacy," he said.

"We are in a position where we need to put a stop to the more severe impact of COVID-19. No vaccine so far is capable of proving that it also stops infections spreading, at the end of the day all of them are more or less efficient in helping you avoid the impact."