Vaccine Boosters in Bahrain Cast Cloud Over Sinopharm Covid Shot

Concerns are growing over the effectiveness of Sinopharm Group Co.’s vaccines, with Bahrain becoming the first nation to say it would start giving an additional immunization to citizens who are already fully vaccinated with the Chinese shot, Dow Jones reported.

Undersecretary of health Waleed Khalifa Al Manea urged high-risk people -- including those who are over 50, obese or chronically ill -- to get a dose of the mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE six months after completing the Sinopharm vaccine series, according to the report.

While Al Manea said Sinopharm’s shot was providing a high degree of protection and noted that it’s mostly unvaccinated people that are being hospitalized, the Dow Jones report didn’t elaborate as to why he was recommending the added dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Shots from state-owned Sinopharm account for more than 60% of all vaccinations given to date in the tiny Persian Gulf nation, according to the report.

Bahrain’s move could prove a setback for China’s vaccine diplomacy, with the world’s most populous country pledging to help developing nations get access to immunizations that will help put an end to the Covid-19 pandemic. While Chinese vaccines are being used in dozens of countries, they’ve been dogged by concerns over their effectiveness and whether they stop transmission, not just serious illness and death.

Mix and Match

Bahrain has seen a steadily rising number of coronavirus cases since the end of 2020, hitting a record of more than 3,000 new infections a day at the end of May. That’s despite the fact that it has one of the world’s highest immunization rates, with more than 50% of the population fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Covid Vaccine Tracker.

The country’s new guidance may feed existing doubt about the Sinopharm shot’s potency. It comes after Seychelles, an island off Africa in the Indian Ocean, experienced an outbreak in May despite the fact that it has fully vaccinated more of its population than any other nation in the world. Its primary shot has been from Sinopharm.

Scientists are starting to investigate whether mixing and matching vaccines, particularly those that use different methods to trigger an immune response, will lead to greater protection against Covid-19. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has started an early stage study to examine the effects of giving a booster shot of different vaccines to fully immunized adult volunteers.

Sinopharm officials declined a request for comment from Bloomberg.

The company’s vaccine, made from inactivated virus that’s injected to trigger an immune response, successfully prevents symptomatic infections and protects people against serious disease, with the two shot series shown as 73%-to-78% effective in a study published last month in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.

The vaccine, plus another from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., have formed the backbone of immunization across the developing world, from Hungary to Peru. While their manufacturers have drawn criticism for not sharing more information about their risks and benefits, the World Health Organization recently authorized both for more widespread use across the globe.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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