** Correction: The original article mistakenly identified that the Seychelles used the Sinovac vaccine ’CoronaVac’ to vaccinate some 60% of its residents. It did not. The Seychelles used the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine. The error is sincerely regretted and the article has been corrected to reflect this. The rest of the article remains unchanged.
This past week authorities in the Seychelles have ordered schools closed and a raft of other emergency provisions to try halt the spread of COVID-19 infections that has ripped through the island nation, which recorded close to 500 new cases in the three days to 1 May among a population of just under 100,000.
The country’s news agency reported that of the current ongoing infections, about 1,000 were “active cases”. One third of those active cases were people who had received two vaccine doses of CoronaVac.
The same has happened in Chile and Turkey, which both used the Sinovac vaccine for their mass-vaccination campaigns.
The is no reason to believe that Phuket will fare any better than any of these countries if the platform for vaccination protection of people across the island is based on the same vaccine.
Of note, Seychelles is a world leader in the percentage of its population that have received vaccination injections, underlining the issue that reaching the ‘herd immunity’ target of vaccinating 70% of the population appears pointless if achieved with a vaccine with a low efficacy in preventing infections.
With the announcement by the Phuket Governor that Phuket is pushing ahead with its goal of reopening the island to receiving fully vaccinated international tourists without quarantine from July 1, the ability of the Chinese-made vaccine Sinovac to prevent COVID infections has been placed front and centre.
Of course there are many deeper questions about the Seychelles outbreak that need better explanation, including how serious the infections are.
As for the Sinovac vaccine, it has been long and oft-repeated that the vaccine has a poor 50.4% ability to prevent infections. Its sales point has been that it prevents people infected with the virus from developing serious symptoms, and apparently has a very good record at preventing deaths.
Further, if the infections are amounting to very little danger to the people infected, the Chinese vaccine used in the Seychelles may have done its job, and the shutdowns ordered by the Seychelles authorities can be considered nothing more than a prudent measure. Right now, it is too early to tell.
However, while Phuket health officials have already marked that of the current infections across the island of the B117 variant of the virus about 50% of the infected people are asymptomatic, the real concern lies with later infections of more dangerous variants such as the one currently devastating India.
All this leads to deep concerns that with the July 1 deadline looming, the rush to place such trust in the Chinese vaccine may be misplaced, and cost the island much more dearly in the long run.
As one The Phuket News reader eloquently put it, “Right now they’re rushing towards a date with an inferior solution.”
The Phuket News has long advocated for the right of choice of vaccine for people to choose from so they determine their own level of protection, and we have openly criticised the government for failing to allow that choice. The reasons so far given to the public for the delay in allowing better-performing vaccines have lacked any modicum of credibility. So far it still appears that the central government is dedicated to upholding a business deal made last year, while the circumstances have changed greatly since then.
The time to take a moment of pause about the real ability of protecting Phuket people from having to shut down again after reopening on July 1 is now upon us, simply due to which vaccine is being trusted to allow the reopening of tourism to the island – all based on a decision made more than eight months ago.
Other options are now on the table. They are worth considering.
What must be recognised, however, is that any change will come at extra cost to what remains in the government’s coffers, and will likely delay the July 1 tourism reopening.