COVID-19 was first discovered in China, which became the first country to produce a vaccine. Sinovac and Sinopharm are China’s leading vaccine makers, and both manufacture World Health Organization-approved COVID-19 vaccines.
What’s the difference between the two companies?
Sinovac is a privately owned company, while Sinopharm is government-run. Scientists at both companies use the same method to make both vaccines.
How are the vaccines made?
Dr. Andrea Cox, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with a special interest in immunization, has provided expert advice to VOA about COVID-19 vaccines. Cox told VOA that scientists take a type of bacteria — or in this case, a virus — and inactivate or kill it. They then inject it into people. Because the virus is dead, it can’t infect anyone. Then, if a vaccinated person is exposed to the live virus, that person’s body recognizes it and fights it off.
Are these vaccines effective?
According to Cox, the Chinese vaccines are not as effective as the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, so they aren’t the preferred jabs in countries that have access to the others. The Sinovac vaccine is about 50% effective, while Sinopharm’s effectiveness is higher, at 78%, WHO reported. Two doses are needed for both vaccines.
Vaccines are often mixed with an adjuvant, a harmless ingredient such as aluminum salts or a bubble of fat, to make them more effective. On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “aluminum is one of the most common metals found in nature and is present in air, food, and water,” so it’s not a foreign or dangerous ingredient, although anti-vax groups claim it is. For example, Sinovac uses aluminum hydroxide, an ingredient also used to treat an upset stomach. Sinopharm also uses an adjuvant in its vaccine.
Do the vaccines have advantages?
The Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines have a major advantage over other COVID-19 vaccines: They are easy to store and need only normal refrigeration. That’s a huge plus in getting a COVID-19 vaccine to people in areas where there is little or no refrigeration.
“In an ideal world,” Cox said, “we wouldn’t need them. But at this point, we need a way to get the world vaccinated as rapidly and effectively as possible, and it may require a use of vaccines that we know are not as good but are better than not being vaccinated."
What will end the pandemic?
WHO says safe and effective vaccines are a game-changing tool, but for now and the foreseeable future, it recommends continued mask wearing, frequent hand-washing, good indoor ventilation, physical distancing, avoiding crowds and, above all, getting vaccinated when you can with whatever vaccine is available.
“Having the world’s best scientists — and I do really mean the world’s best scientists — thinking about how to make effective vaccines and deliver them to a global population is critical,” Cox said. “And the more data we get on these vaccines, the more we will be able to select out vaccines that do protect the largest number of the world’s population.”
As WHO says: “It’s not vaccines that will stop the pandemic, it’s vaccination.”