Sinovac: The ‘Slandered Vaccine’ for Thailand

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inside a mobile vaccination unit in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / AP

China-made Sinovac vaccine is no doubt the most politicized and controversial vaccine in Thailand. And its controversy went up a few more notches after the Chinese Embassy issued a statement defending the vaccine against criticisms by some Thais last Saturday.

To make it more dramatic, a Thai-royalist group vocally apologized to China for the controversies.

In the Chinese Embassy’s statement on Facebook, a spokesman for the embassy urged in Thai language for Thais to stop devaluing the reputation of the Sinovac vaccine.

“Recently, some people and organizations have devalued and slandered [Sinovac vaccine] without reason, which is an attack with no respect to scientific information and fact. It’s an assault to the good intention of China in supporting the Thai people’s fight against the pandemic. The Chinese Embassy totally opposes this and calls on related people and organizations to cease their severely wrong actions,” the statement released on its Facebook page last Saturday read.

This led some to question whether the Chinese Embassy has become too brash and unduly try to interfere with local Thai affairs. After all, Sinovac is supposedly privately-owned and largely bought by Thai tax-payers’ money – but now the Chinese Embassy is defending it.

This was followed a day later by ultra-royalist Thai Raksa Group apologizing to the “Chinese brothers and sisters” and insisting that they love and are sincere to the Chinese people.

Only two people representing the group showed up holding placards near the Chinese Embassy on Sunday but they insist they speak for a million if millions or Thais.

On the other extreme, you have some Thais and Thai-Chinese trash-talking Sinovac and swear they would never take “Sinocrap” and insist it’s no better than injecting oneself with saline or plain water. A few others derogatorily called it “Shenzhen” vaccine, a reference to the city known for copycats among Thais. 

In a normal circumstances, people should have the right to believe or not believe in the efficacy of any vaccines – just like people can have an opinion whether a Toyota is better than a BMW or not. Each of us has the freedom to decide whether we want Sinovac or not and the Chinese Embassy’s words were not only undiplomatic but will likely make Thais who are already skeptical even more so. The Chinese Embassy is essentially doing more harm to themselves and Sinovac than good because many Thais are already wary about the growing economic and political clout of China in Thailand and the region. The Chinese government might better put more effort in convincing countries in the West like France to recognize Sinovac as valid so Thais can feel that Sinovac is as good as other COVID-19 vaccines. At present, Thais fully vaccinated with Sinovac cannot enter France and a few European nations so the onus is on the Chinese government to convince them otherwise. Don’t blame Thais who have doubt because some countries do not recognize Sinovac and would not allow you to enter their countries if you have been Sinovaccinated. Do not lose your temper so easily and tell Thais what to do or what not to do. 

Now, Thais on both sides of the Sinovac divide should also be open minded. For Sinovac opponents, I say please admit the fact that it’s better to be vaccinated with Sinovac than nothing. The Thai government has failed to secure the 10-million dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca per month after they placed the bet on one Thai manufacturer, crown’s owned Siam Bioscience, but the company failed to meet the production targets.

The Prayut Chan-o-cha administration should take the blame for ending up making Sinovac the most prevalent vaccine by default because they are most accessible to Thais. With the more contagious and deadly Delta variant, information is abundant that it’s better to be vaccinated with Sinovac, which is approved by the World Health Organization, or nothing.

For die-hard China and Sinovac supporters in Thailand, I say wake up, smell the oolong tea and accept the facts that even the Thai government have conducted studies and found that two doses of Sinovac is substantially less effective than two doses of AstraZeneca when it comes to the Delta variant. A study released by the Department of Medical Science and Siriraj Hospital on Aug 20 shows that two doses of Sinovac produce an immunity level of 24.31 per cent compared to 76.52 per cent for those receiving two jabs of AstraZeneca. That’s not an insignificant difference but three times less in terms of the level of immunity. But all of that should be taken with a huge grain of salt: the CDC says antibody testing is not recommended as a method to assess COVID-19 immunity.

Also, frontline medical staff have been given a booster shot of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine soon after they got two doses of Sinovac speaks volume about the level of Sinovac’s efficacy against the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Those too happy to defend Sinovac should also acknowledge lingering doubts whether some people within the Thai government may be involved with accepting kickbacks or tea money in exchange for keeping ordering more and more Sinovac vaccines or not. Despite the controversies, an order of 12 million more doses were approved by the Cabinet earlier this week on Tuesday.

Sinovac diehards might actually want to focus on the fact that in terms of side effects, short-term and long-term, Sinovac is arguably safer compared to AstraZeneca or mRNA vaccines as it relies on a tried-and-tested technology and there’s little or no risk of long-term adverse effects. 

Both sides should be reasonable, open minded and understand and acknowledge the arguments from the other side and that’s how Sinovac as well as other vaccines should be treated.