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Why Covid-19 outbreaks in countries using Chinese vaccines don’t necessarily mean the shots have failed

In Mongolia, hospitals are overwhelmed. In the tiny archipelago of Seychelles, more than 100 new Covid-19 cases are being reported each day. And in Chile, a nationwide lockdown was lifted this week — but the country is still reporting thousands of daily cases.

What links these countries is that they have each fully inoculated more than 50% of their populations, largely with Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines. And that’s raised questions over the vaccines’ efficacy. If the Chinese vaccines aren’t working, that’s a huge problem — and not just from a health perspective. Beijing has staked its reputation on providing other countries with vaccines. As Western nations stockpiled supplies for their own populations, China sent vaccines overseas — in June, the foreign ministry announced the country had delivered more than 350 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to more than 80 countries. That mission highlighted inadequate Western efforts at a time when tensions between China and many major democracies were running high.

Questions over the efficacy of China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines now jeopardize that soft-power win for Beijing, although China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has dismissed such criticism as a “bias-motivated … smear.” Experts say that while these Chinese vaccines might not be as effective as some, they aren’t a failure. No vaccine gives 100% protection against Covid-19, so breakthrough cases are to be expected. The crucial metric for measuring success, they say, is preventing deaths and hospitalizations, not aiming for zero Covid-19.

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