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China and Covid19

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.

Manya Koetse

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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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    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 and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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