China mulls over mixing Covid-19 vaccines to improve efficacy of jabs

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China's top disease control official has said the country is formally considering mixing Covid-19 vaccines, as a way of further boosting vaccine efficacy.

BEIJING (AFP) - China is considering the mixing of different Covid-19 vaccines to improve the relatively low efficacy of its existing options, a top health expert has told a conference.

The authorities have to "consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high", Chinese media outlet The Paper reported, citing Dr Gao Fu, the head of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

His comments mark the first time a top Chinese expert has publicly alluded to the relatively low efficacy of the country's vaccines, as China forges ahead in its mass vaccination campaign and exports its jabs around the world.

China has administered around 161 million doses since vaccinations began last year - most people will require two shots - and aims to fully inoculate 40 per cent of its 1.4 billion population by June.

But many have been slow to sign up for jabs, with life largely back to normal within China's borders and domestic outbreaks under control.

Dr Gao has previously stressed that the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is vaccination, and said in a recent state media interview that China aims to vaccinate 70 per cent to 80 per cent of its population between the end of this year and mid-2022.

At the conference in Chengdu on Saturday (April 10), Dr Gao added that an option to overcome the efficacy problem is to alternate the use of vaccine doses that tap different technologies.

This is an option that health experts outside China are studying as well.

Dr Gao said experts should not ignore mRNA vaccines just because there are already several coronavirus jabs in the country, urging for further development, The Paper reported.

Currently, none of China's jabs conditionally approved for the market are mRNA vaccines, but products that use the technology include those by US pharma giant Pfizer and German start-up BioNTech, as well as by Moderna.

China has four conditionally approved vaccines, whose published efficacy rates remain behind rival jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95 per cent and 94 per cent rates, respectively.

China's Sinovac previously said trials in Brazil showed around 50 per cent efficacy in preventing infection and 80 per cent efficacy in preventing cases requiring medical intervention.

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Sinopharm's two vaccines have efficacy rates of 79.34 per cent and 72.51 per cent, respectively, while the overall efficacy for CanSino's stands at 65.28 per cent after 28 days.

"The global vaccine protection rate test data are both high and low," Dr Gao told state tabloid Global Times on Sunday.

"How to improve the protection rate of vaccines is a problem that requires global scientists to consider," he said, adding that mixing vaccines and adjusting immunisation methods are solutions that he had proposed.

Dr Gao also rejected claims by some media reports that he said Chinese Covid-19 vaccines have a low protection rate, telling Global Times that it was "a complete misunderstanding."

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