“Getting vaccinated is always better than exposing yourself to the virus,” Yin Weidong, chairman, president and CEO of Sinovac Biotech, said in an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
He added that those at low risk of infection might prefer a safer vaccine, while people in areas where the disease was more prevalent should go for vaccines offering stronger protection.
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Yin said Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine would start to trigger an immune response to the coronavirus two weeks after the first dose.
The protection rate would reach its highest one month after the second dose was administered and remain at around 80 to 90 per cent for more than two months, he said.
The company and its Brazilian partner have released confusing numbers for the effectiveness of the vaccine in clinical trials. In January, the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo said the vaccine had about a 50 per cent general efficacy rate – well below the 78 per cent reported earlier.
The institute said the vaccine was just over 50 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The figure, which indicates how effective a vaccine is in trials, barely meets the 50 per cent minimum threshold required by most regulators around the world.
Yin said the phase 3 trials in Brazil focused on health care workers who were at high risk of infection. They were offered two shots of the vaccine with a two-week interval in between, which Yin said was the riskiest choice for vaccine evaluation because the protection rate could be at its lowest.
He said the trial showed that the vaccine offered 100 per cent protection against death, severe illness and hospital admission, and the protection rate was around 80 per cent against milder cases requiring medical treatment.
The Chinese company said it was tracking the protection rate data for up to six months and the data might be released in the near future.
“The level of antibody will definitely drop after six months. But people who received the vaccine would still have benefited from it,” Yin said. “After two shots, your body has built up immune memory. If you’re infected, the antibody level might reach a high level in one week.
“For an unvaccinated person, symptoms could show one week after infection. But for those vaccinated, antibodies can be produced earlier than onset.”
With over 120 million Covid-19 infections recorded around the world since the pandemic began, Yin said it was important to track virus mutations, which happened rapidly.
“The way to deal with [mutations] has become very obvious,” he said. “We can effectively develop new vaccines against the new variant strains based on current scientific studies. The time it takes [to modify the vaccine] will be a lot shorter than when we first started making a vaccine.”
He said Sinovac Biotech, which aims to produce 2 billion doses by June, has signed more supply contracts with foreign countries and delivered more than 100 million doses to domestic and international markets.
On whether the United States and European countries would accept its vaccine, Yin said it depended on the production capacity of his company and their demands.
“Our main goal now is to supply vaccines to more countries for more people, instead of entering certain markets, because the product is for public good.”
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