China’s top disease control official says he has had a third Covid-19 shot, as global debate continues on the need for extra doses to boost immunity and protect against new variants.
Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, also told state-run magazine Global People on Sunday that he had received doses of different Covid-19 vaccines, without elaborating.
“I was among the first to have a domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine when I got the shot in May last year,” Gao was quoted as saying. “I have now had three shots that used different technology and were from different manufacturers and I haven’t felt any discomfort.”
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The report did not say why Gao had been given the third jab, and whether it was part of a study.
Gao was the first public health expert in China to call for research into mixing vaccines to try to “resolve the issue that current vaccines don’t have very high protection rates”. That remark in April was widely seen as a public admission of the low efficacy of Chinese vaccines, after more than 164 million doses had already been administered in the country. But he later said it was a general comment about Covid-19 vaccines worldwide, and he was raising the possibility that changing the intervals of doses and mixing technologies could boost immunity.
Chinese drug makers have said they are working on updated versions of their vaccines for more transmissible Covid-19 variants like Delta. Trials have been registered that involve mixing inactivated vaccines – the most used Covid-19 shots in China – with other technologies including the adenovirus-vectored drug produced by CanSino Biologics.
Sinovac Biotech chairman Yin Weidong last month said early stage human trials had found that antibodies created by its vaccine had “jumped 10 to 20 times” when a third dose was given three or six months after the full regimen had been completed. In March, Sinopharm executives said the company had developed a new booster shot for its jab but further studies were needed.
Elsewhere, countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey and Indonesia have been offering third booster shots for people who have received Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs, while Britain has announced plans for a third shot to be offered for vulnerable groups ahead of winter.
Drug maker Pfizer this month said it would seek approval for a third dose of its vaccine to boost protection against new variants but the US regulator said it was still looking into whether they were needed.
The World Health Organization last month said there was not yet enough information to tell whether booster shots were needed.
According to Gao, Chinese scientists have been in a game of “cat and mouse” trying to test how well the existing vaccines work against new variants during outbreaks in the country.
“So far, our vaccines have worked, especially in the face of the Delta strain,” Gao told the magazine.
It was not clear how long they could offer protection for since “this is the first time vaccines against the coronavirus have been developed”, but he said the virus could be around for a long time to come.
“There is a possibility that the coronavirus vaccines will become closer to being like flu vaccines” and that life could go back to normal after “a certain degree” of pandemic control is reached.
Gao himself has been involved in developing a protein-based vaccine with Anhui Zhifei Longcom that has been approved for emergency use in China and is in late-stage human trials in Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ecuador. The vaccine was shown to largely retain its neutralising effects against several variants, including the Delta strain, but with some reduced potency, according to a paper posted on preprint server bioRxiv.org on Friday that has not been peer-reviewed.
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