Op-Ed: What China’s COVID lockdowns say about the next phase of the pandemic


Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, China has returned to lockdown on many areas — including two of its largest cities, Shanghai and Shenzhen — for the worst outbreaks since 2020. This is an ominous development in a country that until now, effectively controlled the pandemic virus that first emerged within its borders.

The mainstay of China’s anti-pandemic policies has been its “zero-COVID” approach, with aggressive lockdowns, widespread asymptomatic testing, widespread masking and vaccination. China has relied on Chinese-made vaccines, either produced by inactivation the SARS-CoV-2 virus or by using a benign adenovirus (a common type of virus) as a vector.

China’s aggressive approach has been linked to significantly lower morbidity and mortality compared to many Western countries, most of which did not have an overarching COVID strategy. Since the beginning of the pandemic approx 3 out of a million Chinese have died compared to about 3,000 per million Americans. China did it Resumption of social and economic activities for periods between lockdowns, although some have criticized the intensity of his lockdowns as draconian.

But now China’s aggressive policy of the highly infectious Omicron variant is no match. The surge in COVID-19 cases is likely to be followed by an increase in hospital admissions and deaths. If lockdowns continue in key trading hubs, they could hit the Chinese economy with significant consequences for global supply chains. Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, is one of them largest ports in the world, and China’s Electronics Manufacturing and Technology Center. The spring 2021 eruption in Shenzhen disrupted port activities, leading to a significant surge global shipping costs and thus in turn higher prices for imports from China. Although local officials said Shenzhen company allowed to reopen, they noted the city is still experiencing “sporadic outbreaks.”

It is now clear that China needs to update its COVID-19 control strategy in the face of Omicron – the most contagious form of the pandemic coronavirus yet. Regardless of each country’s approach to date, all should have similar priorities, especially if the BA.2 Omicron variant becomes more widespread.

First, China and other countries must identify and continue to administer the most effective vaccines. Even against highly infectious variants like Delta and Omicron, mRNA vaccines have consistently outperformed other types of vaccines. Indeed, during the Omicron era, mRNA vaccines continue to provide a high level of protection against serious illness and hospitalization. Although the Chinese vaccines have been incredibly useful, especially before Omicron, the emergence of highly infectious variants requires China to up its vaccine game by investing in mRNA technology for boosters.

China has the vaccine manufacturing infrastructure to adapt mRNA technology for mass production. However, the Chinese government has been hesitant to approve mRNA vaccines. They were there last spring Reports by BioNtechthe German company that worked with Pfizer to create the first mRNA vaccine and its Chinese partner Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical are hiring mRNA vaccine in China. The plan initially included 100 million cans imported for the Chinese market, followed by domestic production of 1 billion cans. Since then, for reasons that are unclear, there has been little progress in approval and use of this vaccine by Chinese authorities. This is in contrast to China quick approval of the originally developed vaccines.

China could theoretically use its existing non-mRNA vaccines to roll out more booster shots. However, there is limited real-world data on how effective these vaccines have been on important issues such as: B. the number of booster doses required, the optimal separation between doses and the duration of protection from the initial dose and booster doses. These data are missing in part because China had relatively few post-vaccination cases to study prior to the Omicron wave and has not used its partnerships with countries in South Asia and Africa that use Chinese vaccines to comprehensively study how well its vaccines are working have these seats.

There were a few sporadic ones real studies on Chinese vaccines, but their number and scope are insufficient to develop a comprehensive evidence base for decision-making about future vaccine distribution. More such studies are needed, along with continuing to explore how best to use mRNA boosters in countries that originally used inactivated vaccines.

To that end, and most importantly, all countries must remember that this is still a global crisis. Much of the world remains unvaccinated, and this is undermining control of the pandemic everywhere. US-China relations worsened since COVIDand the two countries have worked separately to increase global vaccine supply. But it is in our mutual interest to work together to fight this pandemic. American vaccine technology combined with Chinese manufacturing capacity can be a potent mix to increase global vaccine supplies with high-potency vaccines.

The eradication of smallpox is a relevant example of two rival powers entering into a working relationship to combat a devastating disease. During the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union forged a collaboration to eradicate smallpox despite mistrusting each other’s motives. The rest, as they say, is history.

Saad B. Omer is Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and Professor in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health at Yale University. SaadOmer3 Op-Ed: What China’s COVID lockdowns say about the next phase of the pandemic

Caroline Bleakley

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