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China Health & Science

High Hopes, Sober Assessments: China’s COVID-19 Vaccines Discussed

Already successful or still a long way to go? Mixed news reports and discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine program.

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There are strikingly different online discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Some already think the vaccines are effective and about to be launched, while others are more apprehensive about the implementation of a successful program in the near future.

It takes time and global collaboration for a massive vaccination program against COVID-19 to succeed, according to Chinese top scientist Zhong Nanshan (钟南山).

On September 24th, the renowned pulmonologist stated that it will take up to two years to roll out a large-scale vaccine program.

Zhong made his sobering statements during the 13th China Bioindustry Convention (第十三届中国生物产业大会) on Thursday, where he joined the Wuhan event via an online connection.

These remarks, posted by a few media outlets on Weibo, are noteworthy in a social media context where China’s potential COVID-19 vaccines are presented as being in a highly advanced stage, leading to high hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine program launching in the very near future.

 

Already Proven Successful?

 

This week, various state media outlets, including CGTN, propagated the news that some Chinese vaccine candidates have already been proven to be effective during their clinical trials.

The published news, issued on Wednesday, September 23rd, led to the viral hashtag “Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Proven to Be Successful” (#中国新冠疫苗已被证明有效#), which attracted over 480 million clicks on Weibo.

The hashtag was also used on Weibo in combination with a video showing renowned medical scientist Chen Wei (陈薇), visibly emotional, praising the efforts made in the development of a Chinese vaccine.

For the CanSino company, Chen Wei led a joint team over the past months in developing and registering an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. It was the first vaccine candidate to be approved for clinical trials. In state media, Chen is now described as the “She-power behind China’s first COVID-19 vaccine.”

CGTN

“Seeing her cry makes me want to cry,” some commenters said: “Our country is fantastic.” “I am so proud of China,” a typical comment said.

“I hope the people can get the vaccine as soon as possible,” some Weibo users said, with others also asking: “When can we get it?”

Any news on China’s social media about Chinese vaccines proven to be successful at this stage lead back to one statement allegedly made by WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan during a World Health Organization media briefing on Monday, September 21st.

An edited clip of Swaminathan’s statement was published by CGTN, but looking back in the actual media briefing, the Chief Scientist can be heard saying “if some of their candidates prove to be successful,” rather than saying they have already been proven effective (see twitter thread above for the videos).

The quote by Swaminathan is as follows:

We have been engaged in discussions with China for the last several months because, as you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program and several of the vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trials, so this is also of interest to us. We are following those very closely and we have had very constructive and open discussions with them and they have always been reiterating their commitment to global access if some of their candidates actually prove to be successful in the clinical trials that are going on.”

 

Promising Results

 

Despite the apparent confusion over Swaminathan’s remarks, there seems to be enough news on China’s ongoing vaccine research for people to be hopeful about the high-speed development of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

China currently is among the major players in the international race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. The country has eleven different vaccines in clinical trials, four of them in Phase III, meaning the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness is being tested on large patient groups.

Out of the four vaccines in this advanced stage, two belong to the state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm (中国医药集团总公司), divided over the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

Another vaccine belongs to Chinese vaccine company CanSino (康希诺生物), and the other to the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac (北京科兴生物制品有限公司).

News that an upcoming vaccine by China National Biotec Group (CNBG, subsidiary of the state-owned Sinopharm) would cost only 600 yuan ($88) for two doses, if given the green light, made its rounds on Weibo this week (#国内新冠疫苗两针600元#), many applauding the affordable price.

More positive updates on the development of a Chinese novel coronavirus vaccine are flooding social media on a daily basis (#新冠疫苗工作进展#).

On September 25, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Zeng Guang (曾光) shared an update about the progress of the country’s vaccine work during a State Council Information Office conference. He stated that, although further research is still underway, China’s earliest vaccine subjects have maintained high levels of antibodies. The hashtag “Chinese Vaccines Possibly Provide Long-Term Protection” (#我国疫苗可能有比较长期的保护作用#) received over 160 million views on Weibo on Saturday.

 

“Emergency Use”

 

While research is still ongoing, tens of thousands of people in China have already been given vaccines as part of an “emergency use designation.”

The CanSino vaccine candidate (Ad5-nCoV) was approved to be given to members of the military by late June , followed by the approval in July to give the vaccine to those facing high infection risks, such as medical industry workers and border inspectors.

Two other vaccines by Sinovac (“CoronaVac”) and by Sinopharm were also given to thousands of people, including the employees of Sinovac and their families, after both being authorized for “emergency use” in late July.

Zhou Song (周颂), secretary for the Commission for Discipline Inspection with China National Biotec Group (most widely used in the emergency scheme), was quoted by SCMP earlier this month, saying: “Hundreds of thousands have taken the shot and no one has shown any obvious adverse effects or got infected.”

China’s National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei (郑忠伟) also stated at a news conference Friday that the vaccines used pose no risks: “Their safety can be ensured but their efficacy is yet to be determined.”

One of the info sheets about the COVID-19 vaccine shared by People’s Daily on Weibo.

According to Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, common people could have access to COVID-19 vaccines as early as November or December of this year.

 

Sobering Statements

 

Amid all these positive news reports coming out in the Chinese media and being discussed on social media, the more sobering statements by Zhong Nanshan stand out.

The 83-year-old epidemiologist reportedly does not expect a large-scale vaccine program to roll out until at least one or two years from now. Zhong also stated that the virus will continue to exist and spread this winter and in the spring of next year.

Zhong Nanshan is a pulmonologist who played a key role during the SARS outbreak, gaining international recognition as the ‘SARS hero.’ In the fight against COVID-19, the respiratory expert was also involved in managing the crisis. He is often on point in assessing the situation at hand. In early March, Zhong said the COVID-19 pandemic would continue until well after June of this year.

In August, Zhong was nominated the Medal of the Republic (共和国勋章) for his contributions, China’s highest order of honor.

There are mixed responses to the various reports about China’s vaccine program on social media.

When there is news about the vaccines potentially coming out very soon, there is praise but also worry – Weibo users express concern about vaccine safety. Various medical scandals have added to mistrust of vaccines in China. “I am concerned about the side effects,” one popular comment said, with others replying that they were also worried about the overall risks of the vaccine.

News of a large-scale vaccine program potentially taking up to two years, however, is also met with criticism. “Do they want to lock up students for two years?!”, many people wrote, referring to the closed-off campus policies of Chinese universities. Some social media users seem confused: “First it’s three months, then six, now one year, maybe two?”

But many people are also not too worried, praising China’s efforts in containing COVID-19 and working on a vaccine. “It’s the reliability that counts,” they say.

The most recurring comments are those taking pride in what Chinese medical experts have accomplished thus far. “China has become a world leader when it comes to medical technology,” some state: “Trump can go to bed. China is the best!”

Read more about the new coronavirus in China here.

By Manya Koetse

Original background of the featured image by Markus Winkler / @markuswinkler

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Wang

    September 29, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Really good explanation and translation of what Chinese people discuss everyday on weibo , wechat (and daily life).

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China Health & Science

Chinese Student Forced to Undergo “Fake Surgery” and Borrow Money While Lying on the Operating Table

The 17-year-old girl from Shaanxi underwent surgery for no reason at all, without her parents’ consent.

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The story of a 17-year-old girl who was forced to undergo a “fake surgery” at Shaanxi’s Ankang Xing’an Hospital has gone viral on Chinese social media.

One of the netizens to break the story on social media is the Weibo user @QinguanSihai (@秦观四海, 90,000+ followers), who posted about the incident on October 6.

According to the post, the incident occurred on October 4 when a young woman named Lu went online to seek medical attention because she was not feeling well. Since there was an available spot for a medical consultation at the private Ankang Xing’an Hospital, Lu went to see a doctor there.

While she was at the hospital in the city of Ankang, the woman allegedly was directly taken to the operating room and placed on the operating table after a short consultation; not for a medical examination, but for surgery.

The girl initially thought she was undergoing a routine medical check. As the surgery was already underway, the doctor stopped to let Lu sign some papers and then asked her if she could gather the money to pay for her medical procedure. When Lu protested and demanded to get off the surgery table, the doctor warned her that she was losing blood and that interrupting the procedure would be life-threatening.

Lying on the operating table, Lu called some of her friends to gather the money, all the while being pressured by the doctor that the money she had (1200 yuan/$185) was not enough to cover for the costs of surgery – which was still ongoing. The doctor allegedly even told Lu to get more money via the Alipay ‘Huabei’ loaning app.

Lu’s parents, who were contacted by concerned friends, soon showed up at the hospital as the doctor hastily ended the surgery. The parents, who were furious to discover their underage daughter had undergone a medical procedure without their consent, became even more upset when they later found out that Lu had undergone surgery to remove cervical polyps, while Lu’s medical reports showed that she actually had no cervical polyps at all. No reason could be found for their healthy daughter to have been operated on her cervix.

After Lu’s story went viral on social media, local authorities quickly started an investigation into the matter and soon confirmed that the story was real. An initial statement said that Angkang Xing’an Hospital is at fault for performing surgery on a minor without the consent of a guardian or parent. It was also recognized that the hospital has committed serious ethical violations. The hospital, located on 78 Bashan Middle Road (巴山中路), is now temporarily closed, and the doctor in question has since been fired.

Many Chinese netizens are angered about the incident, calling private hospitals such as Ankang Xing’an a “disgrace” to China’s healthcare industry.

This is by no means the first time that malpractices at Chinese local hospitals or clinics trigger online controversy. Various incidents that previously went viral show how some clinics put commercial interests above the health of their patients, and how some doctors think they can get away with abusing and scamming their patients.

In 2016, the death of the 21-year-old cancer patient Wei Zexi (魏则西) sparked online outrage. Wei Zexi, who shared his medical experiences on social media, spent 200,000 RMB to receive contested form of immunotherapy at the Beijing Armed Police Corps No. 2 Hospital (武警二院). The treatment, that was promoted on China’s leading search engine Baidu, was actually completely ineffective and the advertising for it was false.

By now, one hashtag relating to the Ankang incident has received over 270 million views on Weibo (#官方通报无病女生被推上手术台#), with other relating hashtags also circulating on social media (#家属回应无病女学生被迫手术#, #无病女学生被推上手术台涉事医院停业整顿#).

“This can’t be a real hospital, right?!” some worried netizens write, with others expressing the hopes that the medical institution will be severely punished for their wrongdoings.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

Viral Politics: Next-Stage Investigation Into Covid-19 Origins Discussed on Weibo

Many Weibo users agree with Chinese officials that the U.S. re-investigation of the Covid-19 origin is about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.”

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While President Biden ordered a closer review into the origins of the Covid-19 and more countries are calling for action on a next phase study, Chinese officials demand that the U.S. thoroughly investigates the source of the epidemic within America’s own borders and biological labs.

Fifteen months after the WHO declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a global pandemic, the origin of the virus is still unclear. After the Wuhan field visit of the international WHO research team earlier in 2021, all hypotheses on the origin of the virus remain on the table.

As the efforts to get more people vaccinated continue and the outlook on containing Covid-19 are more positive, the question of where the virus that causes Covid-19 came from is attracting attention again. The issue of the ‘origin investigation problem’ (“溯源问题”) is also generating discussions on Chinese social media.

 

The U.S. Side: “Looking for a Definitive Conclusion”

 

On May 26, the White House released President Joe Biden’s statement calling for further investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

The statement says that there is still no definitive conclusion on the origins of the virus, with two scenarios being most likely: human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident. Biden writes that he has asked the Intelligence Community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” asking for a follow-up within 90 days, with a special focus on China.

Speculation that the coronavirus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan was first raised in early 2020, before being refuted and sidelined as a “conspiracy theory” by many scientists.

A statement in The Lancet published in February of 2020 condemned any rumors on the virus origins, claiming that scientific research “overwhelmingly” concludes that the new coronavirus originated in wildlife. The WHO research team investigating the origins of Covid-19 also called it “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab in China.

The American Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was among those scientists who originally refuted the ‘lab leak’ theory. But in May of 2021, Fauci said he was “no longer convinced” that the Covid-19 pandemic originated naturally.

In American media, reports on the ‘lab leak theory’ have also seen shifting narratives, going from a ‘conspiracy theory’ to a seemingly credible one. Last month, a Wall Street Journal published an opinion article titled ‘The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak,’ which claims that the pathogen of the novel coronavirus has a genetic footprint that has never been observed in a natural coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on a study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation. The report by Wall Street Journal included an alleged American State Department’s assertion that the U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019, “with symptoms that were consistent with Covid-19 or a seasonal flu.”

 

The Chinese Side: “It’s All about Blame-Shifting”

 

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied a possible leak from a Chinese laboratory and have emphasized their cooperation with international efforts to find the origins of the pandemic.

On May 27 of this year, a day after Biden’s statement was released, Zhao Lijian (赵立坚), spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, responded to the reinvestigation of China regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Zhao argued that the US is not actually interested in the scientific origin of the virus, but that its determination to reinvestigate China despite previous scientific conclusions is all about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.” He further said that the US – with over 33 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 600,000 deaths from Covid-19 – should examine its own behavior, instead of “attempting to scapegoat China.”

Although China was the first country to report Covid-19 infections, the official stance has been that this does not necessarily mean that the new coronavirus “patient zero” was also in China.

Prior to the Wuhan lab leak theory, China had been questioning the US military base Fort Detrick in Fredrick, Maryland, about the leak of Covid-19 as an agent of biochemical warfare. In May of last year, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying asked for an international review of Fort Detrick and other bio-labs.

In light of recent developments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) also, again, suggested that the U.S. should invite an international team of scientists to conduct an independent investigation on Fort Detrick on its potential link to the origin of Covid-19.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian during the press conference.

This stance was again reiterated by Zhao Lijian in a June 17 press conference, where the MFA spokesperson asked the U.S. to explain why, being the most medically country in the world, their COVID19 death toll was so high and why nobody would take responsibility for this and give more transparency on Fort Detrick.

On June 22, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs turned the tables on the U.S. and demanded a thorough investigation of (1) the source of the epidemic in the United States, a (2) thorough investigation of the why’s and who’s of the American inadequate response in fighting the epidemic, and then also (3) an investigation into the safety concerns at Fort Detrick other biological labs (#赵立坚请美国赶紧回答3个问题#).

 

Weibo Discussions and Hashtags

 

On Chinese social media, various discussions and hashtags have come up in response to the recent developments regarding the research into the COVID19 origins. Most commenters agree on one thing, namely that the next stage of Covid-19 origin investigations is seemingly more about politics than about the virus itself.

A hashtag titled “Biden Ordered US Intelligence to Investigate the Origins of Covid-19” (#拜登令美情报部门调查新冠病毒起源) appeared on the same day as the White House statement was released and immediately attracted over 35 million views. Another relating hashtag on Weibo is “U.S. Specialists Have Changed Their Tune Regarding COVID19 Origin” (#美国专家在新冠病毒的来源上改口了#).

On Weibo, the most common reaction to Biden’s investigation and American media coverage of the origins of the virus is one of suspicion towards their true intentions, ranging from intense emotions to sarcastic humor. Weibo users suggest that Biden’s call to action is a politically charged move to further blame China for the pandemic amidst growing China-US tensions. Most netizens commenting under this hashtag feel that the U.S. is deliberately hyping the issue to discredit China, turning the COVID19 origins issue into a geopolitical issue, rather than a scientific one.

One popular comment (@乐隐灯清) said: “If I say you have it, then you have it – [this is] the second season of ‘Laundry Detergent’!” This sarcastic comment refers to the famous UN meeting where US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a vial containing white powder, supposedly proving that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling anthrax, in order to justify the US’s invasion of Iraq. Putin fired back by calling this vial of powder “laundry detergent.”

There are also web users who are concerned with the 90-day limit of Biden’s announced investigation, questioning whether such a relatively short time would be enough for a thorough and fair study. One user, whose profile image is the Chinese national flag, wrote: “90 days? If you investigated Fort Detrick starting in the morning, you would already have the conclusion before lunchtime!”

One user questioned the US President’s move to trace Covid-19’s origin in China instead of in his own country: “Are they giving 90 days to investigate the origin or 90 days to fabricate a rumor?”

Another hashtag is “Where did the new coronavirus originate?” (#新冠肺炎病毒起源于哪里#). On this hashtag page, most discussions revolve around the fact that COVID19 was already found in various countries outside of China during or just before the early days of the Wuhan outbreak. Various studies suggest that the coronavirus might have been circulating in the US and France a month before it was officially confirmed.

“The fact that Chinese scientists were the first to discover the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus does not mean that Wuhan is the source of Covid-19, and it certainly cannot be used as a pretext to conclude that the virus was made by Chinese scientists,” one Weibo blogger (@侠骨一点情) wrote.

There are those who believe it is probable that the virus did come from the U.S., saying that the American investigation into China is an issue of “zéi hǎn zhuō zéi” (贼喊捉贼), an idiom that literally means ‘a thief crying “Stop Thief!”,’ conveying the idea that it is easy for someone to accuse another in order to cover up one’s own misdeeds.

‘Investigate Thoroughly! Except Here’ (‘彻查!除了这儿’) by 半桶老阿汤 / Half Can of Old Soup

In response to the investigation, the computer graphics artist @半桶老阿汤 / ‘Half Can of Old Soup’ also released a cartoon, showing President Biden blocking the entrance to Fort Detrick, with a WHO research team standing in front of the entrance.

Many web users support the Chinese official reaction that it is time for America to investigate the epidemic within its own borders. “First, discrediting and framing China regarding the virus origin has become a ‘national policy’ of the U.S. government to get rid of their [own] predicaments,” Chinese economist Tao Yongyi (@陶永谊) wrote on Weibo: “Now, the best defense is a good offense.”

By Susanna Sun & Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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