President of Seychelles Refutes Doubts over Sinopharm's Vaccine Efficacy Amid COVID-19 Surge

By Wan Lin

May 11, 2021 11:47 PM

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan (right) answers a practitioner prior to receive the first dose of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm at the Seychelles Hospital in Victoria on January 10, 2021. Photo: AFP

The president of Seychelles has refuted doubts over the effectiveness of China's COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm amid the epidemic surge in the country. President Wavel Ramkalawan said the vaccine is effectively helping to protect people from getting sick. 

Chinese experts said that questioning by foreign media over the effectiveness of Sinopharm's vaccine is arbitrary and the surge of COVID-19 cases in Seychelles is fueled by multiple factors, such as mutant strains and the level of protective antibodies in the population.

Seychelles, an island nation located in the Indian Ocean with a population under 100,000, is so far the most vaccinated country in the world with 69 percent of its population having received at least one shot and 61 percent fully vaccinated, according to research published by Our World in Data. 

The Sinopharm vaccine was administered to people aged 18 to 60 while the Covishield, an AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India were given to people above 60 years old, said president Ramkalawan, in an interview with Seychelles News Agency on Monday.

A new wave that hit Seychelles has put the country in the spotlight as it has reported 2,486 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday with the total count reaching 8,172. 

The surge in the number of COVID-19 cases has raised doubts over the efficacy of the vaccines after the health ministry reportedly said that more than one third of new active cases are people who are fully vaccinated. 

Though it is unknown how many of the inoculated patients were injected with the Sinopharm shot, questioning voices from some foreign media have been mainly targeting the Chinese vaccine. 

President Ramkalawan refuted such doubts on Monday, saying that among people needing hospitalization in the age group of 18 to 60, 80 percent were not vaccinated, which shows the efficacy of the vaccines.

"People may be infected but they are not sick. Only a small number are. Isn't this how the vaccine is supposed to help us? So, what is happening is normal," he said, noting that the two vaccines that the country has administered have served the population very well.

Seychelles has not recorded deaths of people that have been fully vaccinated which also proves the efficacy of the vaccine, he stressed. 

A Beijing-based immunologist who requested to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Tuesday that the evaluation of the effectiveness of the Sinopharm vaccine is arbitrary and the causes for the outbreaks in Seychelles should be analyzed with more detailed information about the patients and taking into consideration factors such as mutant strains and the level of protective antibodies in the local population. 

Although data on genetic sequencing is not yet available for infections in Seychelles in April, the B1351 variant, which was first identified in South Africa, was found in the island nation in February, Daniel Lucey, clinical professor of medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, said in a report published by Time. 

The immunologist also pointed to the relaxation of restrictions as a leading cause of the outbreaks in the country since it opened its borders to tourists from abroad on March 25 with no quarantine restrictions for international arrivals.

 "With vaccination alone is very difficult to stop the spread of COVID-19. So, even with vaccinations, it still needs to be strictly controlled," he said. 

Sylvestre Radegonde, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, said the growing number of new cases in Seychelles shows that people are letting their guards down with the vaccination program.

"Seychellois are relaxing and think that all is ok because they are vaccinated now. We are letting our guard down, we are not as careful as before," he said.

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