Misleading: COVID-19 vaccines not ready for clinical comparison or pricing
By Joshua Lee and Stephanie Chan
Prominent pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who is seeking re-election in Hong Kong’s upcoming Legislative Council election, shared an image on his Facebook page on July 23 with several claims about potential vaccines for COVID-19.
The image, with text in Traditional Chinese, claims:
- Western media are only reporting the results of vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and therefore hiding the truth;
- The medical journal The Lancet, on the other hand, also highlights the significant success of vaccine trials in China;
- The vaccine being developed in China is a better choice because only one injection is required and it is cheaper.
As of July 28, Ho’s Facebook post received more than 4,700 reactions and 397 shares. The same image was also featured by a pro-government media called Speakout. A Weibo post with the same image garnered more than 2,000 likes and 200 comments.
All of these claims are misleading.
Annie Lab has gone through recent research papers published by The Lancet and found two articles related to the potential COVID-19 vaccines mentioned in the image shared by Ho. Both were published on July 20.
One article discusses a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The second discusses research by vaccine manufacturer CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology.
Additionally, the medical journal features two experts’ commentary on the two vaccine candidates describing the progress as “encouraging.” None of the articles clinically compares them or mentions the cost.
Annie Lab has searched for more information about the two newly developed vaccine candidates but found no scientific article comparing them.
Several academic papers have compiled lists of potential vaccine candidates with their basic characteristics, functionality and research progress but no research paper evaluates them yet.
It is too early to determine at this stage whether one vaccine is better than the other, said Jin Dong-Yan, a professor from the University of Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine who specializes in molecular virology.
“If you really want to compare them, there really isn’t a lot to go on,” he said, adding that both vaccines are actually quite similar in the methods they use.
According to Jin, the claim that only one shot is needed for the Chinese vaccine is not grounded in the research because there are two concentrations of dosage, low and high. One injection may be enough with the high-concentration dosage but with the low-concentration one, a second may be needed.
He said the two vaccines are still in the experimental stage and nobody can determine their price or effectiveness right now. “The most important aspect of vaccines we should be discussing is the safety, not the price,” Jin said.
The vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is known scientifically as “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19,” and by the name “AZD1222.”
The latest trial between April and May involved 1,077 participants, and in a paper published in The Lancet researchers say preliminary results suggest it safely produces an immune response against COVID-19. Further testing is now underway to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
According to news reports, AstraZeneca has a target of supplying two billion doses of this potential vaccine with backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The governments of the U.K. and the U.S. have also already placed orders for this vaccine candidate.
The vaccine being developed by CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology is known scientifically as “Ad5 nCoV.” In a summary of their latest phase two trial published in The Lancet researchers suggest the vaccine safely triggers an immune response against COVID-19. Further trials are now underway.
The work to develop the “Ad5 nCoV” vaccine is closely linked with the People’s Liberation Army’s medical research institute, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, according to a report by Fortune magazine.
In the upcoming Legco election, other candidates hoping to run in the New Territories West constituency along with Ho include:
Cheng Chung-tai from Civic Passion; Chan Han-pan from DAB; Mak Mei-kuen Alice from The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions; Kwok Ka-ki from Civic Party; Chow Ho-ding Holden from DAB; Cheung Ho-sum from Tuen Mun Community Network; Wong Ji-yuet (no affiliation); Leung Fei-suet (no affiliation); Chu Hoi-dick Eddie (no affiliation); Ng Kin-wai from TSWConnection; Tien Michael Puk-sun from Roundtable; Wan Siu-kin Andrew from The Democratic Party; Hui Hau-leung (no affiliation); Wong Tin-yau (no affiliation) as of July 29, 2020.
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