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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.

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 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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    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 Doctor Knocks Herself Out in Controversial Self-Experiment

Dr. Chen wanted to warn about the dangers of sevoflurane and other drugs.

Manya Koetse

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A female doctor has become a topic of discussion on Chinese social media for her self-experimentation with anesthesia.

Dr. Chen (陈大夫), a Nanjing doctor who works in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department, conducted the experiment in response to an ongoing discussion on whether or not a handkerchief dipped in inhalation anesthetics could cause immediate unconsciousness (“一捂就晕”).

The discussion was triggered by news of the death of a 23-year-old woman from Foshan, Guangdong Province, on February 8. The recent college graduate was found in a hotel room and it was later ruled that the cause of death was acute respiratory failure due to sevoflurane toxicity. The victim’s company supervisor, a 39-year-old man named Peng, is now suspected of fatally sedating and raping the young woman.

The case led to speculation among netizens whether or not sevoflurane could have knocked out the woman in seconds. There have been ongoing debates on the effects of general anesthetics used to sedate unsuspected victims, with some specialists arguing that it is not so easy to make someone slip into unconsciousness within a matter of seconds – saying it would take much longer than and only if an unusually high dosage is used.

Dr. Chen posted on February 10 that she was certain that it is possible for certain inhalation anesthetics to immediately make someone pass out, but her claim was refuted by others. The popular Weibo blogger Jiangning Popo (@江宁婆婆), a police officer, was one of the persons involved in the discussion claiming Chen was wrong.

Dr. Chen is active on Weibo under the handle @妇产科的陈大夫, and with over two million followers on her account, she is somewhat of a ‘celebrity’ doctor.

Instead of spending time arguing back and forth on the internet, Dr. Chen decided to put the issue to the test herself with an unopened bottle of sevoflurane that she had previously purchased for the planned sterilization of her dog. The sevoflurane had already passed its expiry date.

On February 16, Dr. Chen then asked someone else to film her doing the self-experiment and she posted the video on Weibo, in which she inhaled sevoflurane on a cloth. The doctor soon passed out in the video, which has since been deleted.

The experiment in the video lasts 64 seconds, and shows Chen:

– 00:01-00:06 Opening the bottle of sevoflurane
– 00:07-00:12 Preparing a cloth
– 00:13-00:23 Putting the sevoflurane on the cloth
– 00:23-00:26 Closing the cap of the bottle
– 00:27-00:28 Putting the cloth on her mouth and nose
– 00:29-01:33 = the time frame of losing consciousness (with first symptoms starting at 0:44) to going limp and falling on the floor (1:20) and being completely unconscious (1:21-1:33).

Dr. Chen’s experiment immediately sparked controversy after she posted the video on social media.

Although sevoflurane is a prescription drug and a controlled substance, it is also sold online as a type of drug. According to The Paper, the number of rape cases in China facilitated by drugs have risen over the past three years, with many ‘date rape drugs’ being sold and bought over the internet.

With sevoflurane being a controlled substance, Dr. Chen’s video triggered discussions on whether or not she was actually involving in a criminal act by doing the self-experiment. She also received criticism from within the medical community that she used this medication outside of the hospital environment.

Dr. Chen soon deleted the video herself and then called the police to personally explain and apologize for the incident, with the news soon going viral (#女医生拿自己做实验后报警并致歉#, 270 million views).

But despite the controversy, the doctor still defends her actions to some extend. Although Chen stated on February 17 that her self-experiment was “not right,” dangerous, and should never be imitated by anyone, she later also explained on her Weibo page that she thinks sevoflurane as a prescription drug is too easy to get your hands on and that the existing laws to prevent people from buying it are too weak.

The doctor has succeeded in raising public awareness on the dangers of these kinds of drugs. She also reminds both women and men never to leave their drink unattended, as the dangers of someone slipping something in your drink are real and the consequences can be grave.

As the incident has gone trending on Chinese social media, many commenters praise Dr. Chen for her experiment, while others also praise her for being transparent and admitting her mistakes.

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

Applying China’s New Civil Code, Shanghai Court Annuls Marriage after Husband Hides HIV-positive Status from Wife

The court case triggered discussions on the need for premarital health checks.

Manya Koetse

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Jiang is HIV-positive but did not mention his status to his partner before getting married. Under China’s new civil code, the marriage is now annulled.

On January 4, a Shanghai court applied the new rules of China’s Civil Code for the first time to annul a marriage.

The Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China was adopted by the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress in May of last year and is effective since January 1st 2021. Some experts within China call the law a “milestone legislation” that will better protect people’s civil rights.

On Monday, January 4, a landmark court case in which the new civil code was applied for the first time in Shanghai went trending on Chinese social media.

The case involves a married couple of which the husband had failed to inform his wife that he was HIV positive before getting married.

In June of 2020, Mr. Jiang and Ms. Li got married after Li became pregnant. Afterward, Jiang confessed that he had been HIV-positive for multiple years, and was taking medication to control his disease.

Jiang alleged that, due to his medication, there was effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to his partner. But Li, who did not contract HIV, could not accept the situation and decided to terminate her pregnancy and applied for a marriage annulment.

Under the new civil code, annulment of marriage is possible when a partner who is “seriously ill” – which now includes HIV/AIDS – fails to inform their fiance of their condition before getting married.

Since Jiang had not informed his wife of his condition before tying the knot, the Shanghai Minhang Court ruled in Li’s favor and annulled the marriage.

On Weibo, the case has attracted a lot of attention, with one hashtag about the case (#男方婚前患艾滋未告知婚姻关系被撤销#) attracting 690 million views on Monday.

The news item also led to another hashtag gaining many views: “The Need for Premarital Medical Examination” (#婚前体检的必要性#) had 200 million views on its hashtag page on Monday.

One popular relationship blogger (@感情感分析异地恋) argues that the Shanghai court case shows the importance of couples getting a medical examination before getting married: “It’s not to discriminate against those who are HIV positive or who are suffering from other illnesses, but it’s about informing your partner about these things before getting married.”

Premarital health checks were previously compulsory in China, but these examinations are no longer required since 2003. Many couples do still go for premarital health checkups. According to Xinhua, over 61% of Chinese couples had a medical examination before getting married in 2018.

Although the application of China’s new civil code is generally praised by Weibo users in this case, it has previously also received a lot of negative attention. The new law also introduced a mandatory 30-day “cooling off” period for couples seeking divorce.

This “cooling off” period is seen as harmful to those who are suffering abuse within marriage and already have difficulties in leaving their abusive partner. The case of Lamu, a Tibetan vlogger who died after her husband set her on fire, also led to more online discussions of the “cooling off” period and how it makes women more vulnerable within their marriage.

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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