Seychelles outbreak backlash raises questions about effectiveness of national vaccine
The Seychelles capital of Victoria earlier this year. The small island nation with a population of just over 100,000 is now battling a surge in new coronavirus infections and has had to reintroduce measures to restrict movement.
Marie Neige, who works at a Seychelles telephone service center, is keen to get vaccinated. Like most residents of the small island nation, she had already had the vaccine from China National Pharmaceutical Group in March this year and was looking forward to the ample protection it would provide in a few weeks.
On Sunday, she tested positive for the new coronavirus.
“I was shocked,” said Nechi, 30, who is currently in isolation at home. She said she has lost her sense of smell and taste, and has a slightly sore throat. “The vaccine was supposed to protect us – not just from the virus, but from these symptoms,” she said. “I’ve been cautious.”
China had counted on Sinopharm’s vaccine to be the mainstay of its vaccine diplomacy program, an easily transportable vaccine that could provide protection not only for its own citizens but also for people in many developing countries. In an effort to garner goodwill, China has donated 13.3 million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccines to other countries, according to consulting firm Podiatry Consulting (Beijing), which tracks China’s impact on global health.
However, the company, which has developed and produced two new coronavirus vaccines, is facing increasing questions about vaccination. Initially there was a lack of transparency regarding late-stage clinical trial data for the vaccines. Now the Seychelles, the country with the highest rate of neo-coronavirus vaccination in the world, has seen a spike in infections, even though the majority of its population has been vaccinated with the national vaccine.
The news is a setback for the 56 countries that were counting on the national vaccine to help them contain the pandemic.
Seychelles relies heavily on the GMP vaccine to vaccinate more than 60 percent of its population.
For months, public health experts have focused their attention on trying to close the gap in access to vaccines between rich and poor countries. Now, scientists are warning that developing countries that choose to use the relatively less effective Chinese vaccine could end up behind countries that choose vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. This gap could allow the new coronavirus to continue spreading in countries with fewer resources.
“To benefit economically, there is a real need to use highly effective vaccines or else you will have to live with this disease for a long time,” said Reina McGinn, head of the Kirby Institute’s Biosafety Program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The choice of vaccine is important,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of the Kirby Institute’s biosafety program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “Vaccine choice is important.”
Nowhere are the consequences of vaccine choice more evident than in the Seychelles, a country that has vaccinated more than 60 percent of its population, relying heavily on vaccines from Sinopharm. The small Indian Ocean island nation northeast of Madagascar, with a population of just over 100,000, is grappling with a surge of new coronaviruses and has had to reintroduce measures to restrict movement.
Of those who received two doses of the vaccine in Seychelles, 57 percent were given the National Drug vaccine and 43 percent were given the AstraZeneca vaccine. According to the country’s Ministry of Health, 37 percent of the newly diagnosed infections had completed two doses of the vaccine, but the ministry did not disclose how many of those were given the national vaccine.
“On the face of it, it’s a shocking result,” Kim Mulholland, a pediatrician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia Mulholland, who has participated in the supervision of many vaccine clinical trials, including those for the new coronavirus vaccine, said.
Mulholland said preliminary reports from the Seychelles showed that the effectiveness of the NDV vaccine was 50 percent, rather than the 78.1 percent claimed by the NDV group.
The new coronavirus vaccine from Sinopharm was unloaded in Budapest in February this year. China has donated 13.3 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to other countries.
“In a country where most adults are effectively vaccinated, we would expect the disease to fade away,” he said.
Breakthrough infections are normal, scientists say, because no vaccine is 100 percent effective. But the Seychelles’ experience stands in stark contrast to Israel’s, which has the second-highest vaccination rate in the world for the new coronavirus and has effectively contained the virus. A study showed that the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel was 94 percent effective in preventing the spread of the virus. According to the OurWorld in Data project, the daily number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per million people in Seychelles was 2,613.38 on Wednesday, compared to 5.55 in Israel.
Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan defended the country’s vaccination program, saying the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines “have served our people well. He noted that the Sinopharm vaccine is targeted at people between the ages of 18 and 60, and that 80 percent of patients in that age group who need to be hospitalized are not vaccinated.
“People may be infected, but they’re not sick. Only a small percentage of people are sick,” he told the Seychelles News Agency. “So what is happening now is normal.”
Seychelles Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister Sylvestre Radegonde said the surge in cases in Seychelles was partly due to people letting their guard down, according to the Seychelles News Agency. China National Pharmaceutical Group did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.
A wedding in Kiryat Gat, Israel, in March of this year. Israel, which has the world’s second-highest vaccination rate for the new coronavirus, uses the Pfizer vaccine, and the number of cases of the new coronavirus after vaccination has remained low.
In response to questions about the backlash against the Seychelles outbreak reported by The Wall Street Journal, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Communist Party’s Foreign Ministry accused the Western media of trying to smear the Chinese vaccine with an “unhealthy mentality that ‘when it comes to China, it must be black’ “.
Kate O’Brien, head of immunization and vaccines at the World Health Organization, said at a news conference that the WHO was assessing the surge in infections in Seychelles and called the situation “complex. Last week, WHO approved Sinopharm’s new coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, raising hopes of an end to the global vaccine supply crunch.
She said “some of the reported cases occurred shortly after the first dose of vaccine, or shortly after the second dose of vaccine, or between the first and second dose of vaccine.”
O’Brien said WHO is investigating the strains currently prevalent in Seychelles, when the infections occurred relative to the time of vaccination, and the severity of each case. “Only through this assessment can we make an evaluation of whether these vaccines are failing,” she said.
But some scientists say it is becoming increasingly clear that the GMP vaccines do not provide a clear pathway to achieving herd immunity, especially when considering the various viral variants that are emerging around the world.
Governments that use GMP vaccines “have to assume a fairly high failure rate and plan accordingly,” says John Moore, a vaccine expert at Cornell University. “The government must remind the public that there is still a considerable possibility of infection.”
Seychelles President Wavell Ramkarawan (right) fills out forms before receiving his first dose of the CDC vaccine in January. He has defended his country’s vaccination program.
Many in Seychelles say the government has been reluctant to provide information.
“My question is: why are they pushing all the people to get the Sinopharm vaccine?” Diana Lucas, a 27-year-old waitress, said she tested positive for the new coronavirus on May 10. She said she had received a second dose of the NCP vaccine on Feb. 10.
Emmanuelle Hoareau, 22, a government attorney who received a second dose of the Kokusai vaccine in March, tested positive for the new coronavirus on May 6. “It’s confusing,” she said. She also said the government has not provided the public with enough information about the vaccine.
“They’re not explaining to the people what’s really going on,” she said. “It’s a big deal – a lot of people are getting infected.”
Hoyaro’s mother, Jacqueline Pillay, is a nurse at a private clinic in the capital, Victoria. She said she believes a new variant of the virus is circulating in Seychelles because of the large number of foreigners who have entered the country in recent months. on March 25, the tourism-dependent country opened its borders to most tourists, and there is no quarantine for those who come.
“People are very scared right now,” said Pillay, 58. “When you provide people with accurate information, people don’t guess.”
Health officials recently appeared on television to encourage those who had received only one dose of the national vaccine to come back for a second dose. But Pillay said she was disappointed that the public health commissioner did not explain why the vaccine did not seem to be working as well as it should.
“I don’t think a lot of people are going to come back for a second dose,” Pillay said.