Hundreds of millions of Chinese jab recipients need to be vaccinated again

Once opposed to booster campaigns, the WHO is recommending a third dose for some.

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Grady McGregor here filling in for Clay Chandler. We will be off on Thursday for Hong Kong’s Double Ninth festival, a public holiday that is expected to be wet and windy as the city prepares to be hit by its second typhoon in less than a week.

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that people over age 60 get a third dose of vaccines from Chinese makers Sinovac and Sinopharm.

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Grady McGregor here filling in for Clay Chandler. We will be off on Thursday for Hong Kong’s Double Ninth festival, a public holiday that is expected to be wet and windy as the city prepares to be hit by its second typhoon in less than a week.

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that people over age 60 get a third dose of vaccines from Chinese makers Sinovac and Sinopharm.

The inactivated jabs from Sinovac, a private vaccine maker based in Beijing, and Sinopharm, a state-run firm based in Shanghai, are among the most-used COVID-19 vaccines in the world, together making up the backbone of the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort. China has largely relied on Sinovac and Sinopharm to deliver 2.2 billion jabs to its citizens, while the two makers have contributed the vast majority of the 1.1 billion doses China has supplied to 123 foreign countries.

In total, the WHO’s recommendation for booster shots advises hundreds of millions of people to immediately get another jab.

The guidance from the UN expert group SAGE marks the first time the WHO has recommended a third dose specifically for its approved COVID-19 vaccines. (The expert committee also advised that all “moderately or severely immunocompromised” people fully vaccinated with any WHO-approved shot should also get a booster jab.)

SAGE wrote that countries using the Sinovac and Sinopharm jabs should maximize two-dose coverage of populations over 60 before starting on booster doses one to three months after completing the first two shots. The data on Sinopharm and Sinovac “clearly showed that in older age groups … the vaccine performs less well after two doses [than after three],” Joachim Hombach, secretary of the independent panel of experts, said at a press conference.

The WHO has been well aware of efficacy questions surrounding the Chinese jabs, and has long cautioned that it has seen little data on the safety or efficacy of either jab in older populations. In approving the vaccines this summer, the WHO expressed “low” and “moderate” confidence in the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, respectively, in preventing infections for people over age 60.

But the recommendations for booster doses stand out given the extent to which the WHO has blasted booster campaigns rolled out in wealthy nations like the U.S.

“I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in September while calling for a global moratorium on supplying booster shots until 2022.

In other words, the WHO appears skeptical enough about the performance of Chinese jabs among older populations that it is willing to potentially divert some supplies away from younger populations to boost the immunity of older ones—not an easy concession for an organization bent on improving global vaccine equity.

“We are absolutely cognizant that [the decision on Sinovac and Sinopharm] has implications on supply,” Hombach said. “[But] we are saying very clearly that these populations require a primary [vaccination] series with three doses.”

The recommendation comes as the Chinese vaccines are losing popularity but gaining manufacturing might.

Ahead of the WHO’s new guidance, countries like the United Arab Emirates and Turkey began to supply booster shots for those inoculated with the Chinese jabs due to questions about the effectiveness of the two-dose regimen. Meanwhile, countries like Brazil and Thailand have started phasing out Chinese jabs entirely from domestic campaigns.

Still, the Chinese vaccine makers have built a massive global manufacturing network that could supply vaccines to much of the world for years to come.

Sinopharm and Sinovac have constructed factories in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, and the UAE that can produce over 500 million jabs combined by the end of this year. Sinopharm alone says it now has the capacity to produce 7 billion vaccines per year from factories in China and abroad. As of its latest update in April, Sinovac said it can produce 2 billion doses per year. By comparison, Pfizer recently said that it plans to produce 3 billion doses of its COVID mRNA vaccine in 2021, with capacity rising to 4 billion doses annually in 2022.

The WHO recommendation turns Sinopharm and Sinovac into a three-dose regimen for older recipients, and that’s certainly better than no shots at all.

“There’s still a market for the Chinese vaccines…simply because Western vaccines cannot meet the global demand right now,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently told me.

Grady McGregor
grady.mcgregor@fortune.com

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Yvonne Lau. Reach her at yvonne.lau@fortune.com  

Eastworld News

Factory crisis

Vietnam’s factory workers are going home en masse, abandoning the country’s southern industrial cities, like Ho Chi Minh as the region continues to battle high COVID-19 infections amid a low vaccination rate. The government’s strict lockdown measures enacted in July trapped some workers in cramped urban housing. The mass exodus has crippled production at factors for many brands, such as Nike. The government predicts more workers may leave industrial cities, which will further aggravate the global supply chain crunch ahead of the key holiday season. Bloomberg

Widening crackdown

The anti-monopoly bureau of China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) plans to hire more staff in its Beijing head office, according to a Tuesday Bloomberg report—a signal that the government’s regulatory pressure on the country’s private sector won’t let up anytime soon. The SAMR wants to increase its competition bureau headcount to 150 from 40. Last week, the SAMR fined food delivery giant Meituan $534 million for “monopolistic behavior”—a lower-than-expected fine that suggested to some investors that the state’s crackdown might be easing. Bloomberg

Rocky reopening

Singapore’s path to reopening—despite its flaws—still offers lessons to governments pivoting away from stringent ‘COVID zero’ strategies. Governments must be prepared for infections to surge alongside a small number of deaths as they relax restrictions. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday that the country remains committed to reopening and “living with COVID.” The island nation recently announced quarantine-free travel from 11 countries, including the U.S., U.K. and France. Singapore is currently battling a record wave of infections—recording over 3,000 cases per day, three times its previous high in the spring of 2020—despite an 83% vaccination rate. Fortune

Bond slump

Chinese property firms’ bonds were hit hard on Monday as embattled property developer Evergrande looked unlikely to meet its third bond repayment deadline in three weeks. Smaller developers are also struggling to pay debts. “It’s a disastrous day,” Clarence Tam, fixed income portfolio manager at Hong Kong’s Avenue Asset Management told Reuters. Some firms recorded a 20% hit to their bonds, he said. On the same day, Chinese developer Sinic Holdings announced it was also likely to default on its bonds—$250 billion due Oct. 18—while another developer, Modern Land, asked for a three-month extension for its U.S. dollar bond due Oct. 25. Reuters

Markets and movers

Lenovo – Shares of Hong Kong-listed Lenovo plunged roughly 17% on Monday—its biggest intraday drop in a decade—after the firm withdrew its $1.6 billion Shanghai IPO application on Friday. Beijing-based Lenovo, the world’s largest personal computer manufacturer, cited “capital market conditions” and lapsed financial information in its IPO prospectus as reasons for yanking the listing. 

Westpac – Westpac, Australia’s second-largest lender by market cap, announced a $950 million profit hit in the second half of 2021. The bank said its losses were related to the sale of its life insurance unit in August, including settling customer lawsuits and payouts. 

Alibaba – Alibaba’s share price has climbed 24% since dropping to a record low on Oct. 5. Investors seem to think the $533 million antitrust fine against delivery platform Meituan—a lower-than-expected penalty—signals that China’s tech crackdown is nearing an end. 

Lanvin – Fosun Fashion Group has rebranded as Lanvin Group as the Chinese-owned conglomerate moves to grow via acquisition and e-commerce expansion, the company announced on Monday. 

Huawei – More than three-fourths of Canadians say their government should ban China’s Huawei from the country’s 5G telecommunications network, according a new poll from Nanos Research. In 2019, 59% of Canadians were opposed to Huawei. Canada-China ties have been rocky since late 2018, when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and China imprisoned two Canadian business executives, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. All three were released in late September. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce a decision on Huawei soon.

Final figure

$218.74

China’s coal futures soared to record highs on Monday as severe floods in northern China pummelled mining operations, displaced over 120,000 people, and worsened the country’s energy crunch. Coal futures traded on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange gained 11.6% to close at RMB 1,408.20 ($218.74) a tonne on Monday—roughly double the price at the start of 2021. Extreme rains and heavy floods hit Shanxi over the weekend, a major coal-producing province of China; local authorities said they suspended operations at over 60 coal mines.