The dramatic ramp up comes at an awkward time, however. Early adopters of China’s vaccines have seen dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases—despite high vaccination rates—and are now backing away from the country’s offerings.
In Bahrain, for instance, officials are now offering high-risk people who have already received two doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine a third vaccine dose—but one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The apparent vote of no confidence by officials is striking: Bahrain was one of the first countries to back and rollout Sinopharm’s vaccine, and it has had a highly successful vaccination campaign. Nearly 58 percent of the Persian Gulf country has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and most of the vaccines given in Bahrain are from Sinopharm. But the country is now seeing its worst wave of COVID-19 yet and the government has recently issued a two-week lockdown to try to get transmission under control.
The Seychelles went through a similar struggle. The archipelago saw a dramatic spike in cases in mid-May, despite having around 70 percent of its population vaccinated with at least one dose. Like Bahrain, the Seychelles had largely relied on the Sinopharm vaccine.
Dubai, which has also relied on Sinopharm’s vaccine, is now quietly offering residents who have been fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine the opportunity to get re-vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Nothing can happen unless China says yes,” said Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “The WHO has no power under international law to require China to comply. “
He added, “Given the relationship between China and the U.S., there’s a negligible chance that the Chinese would capitulate to U.S. requests for a full and independent investigation.”
Complicating matters, leading public health officials—including WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus —have called for a thorough investigation into whether the pandemic could have begun with a lab accident.
Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical officer, was asked in a May 11 Senate hearing whether the Covid-19 virus could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan—home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which conducted extensive research on bat-borne coronaviruses. He responded, “that possibility certainly exists and I am totally in favor of a full investigation of whether that could have happened.”
China strongly contests that such a lab accident is a plausible explanation for the pandemic. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry and embassy in Geneva couldn’t be reached for comment.
China has said it fully cooperated with a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in Wuhan, visited the virology institute, and concluded that a lab accident was “extremely unlikely.” Beijing has now asked that the WHO-led team pursue evidence that the virus may have been circulating elsewhere before the first confirmed cases in Wuhan in early December 2019.
Scientists widely agree that there isn’t strong enough evidence for the lab hypothesis, or for the main alternative: that the virus spread from animals to humans outside a lab.