Chinese netizens mock S'pore for only allowing use of Sinovac under Special Access Route

Posts by Chinese netizens repeated the common refrain that Chinese-made vaccines are being discriminated against.

Kayla Wong | June 04, 2021, 07:26 PM

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has approved the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine for use among residents under the Special Access Route (SAR).

The news follows the World Health Organization's (WHO) approval of the vaccine for emergency use in adults over the age of 18.

The latest development was covered by international news outlets such as Bloomberg and South China Morning Post.

Discussions regarding the news could be found on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo as well, where nationalistic voices tend to be amplified.

Dubious claims on Weibo

Many Weibo accounts appeared to carry the same post word for word, even making the unsubstantiated claim that infectious disease experts have said that non-mRNA vaccines (Sinovac) have "a lower chance" of triggering severe allergic reactions.

Traction on the topic has been limited, however, with a post by Russian state-controlled media Russia Today (RT) garnering the most comments.

RT highlighted that since Singapore received 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine in March, they have been "stored in a warehouse", awaiting the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) to complete its evaluation of the vaccine.

RT also pointed out that besides Sinovac, Singapore has allowed vaccines made by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson to be used under the SAR.

HSA has previously said it was in talks with AstraZeneca, Reuters reported.

Chinese netizens react

Most netizens disparaged the Singapore government for not including Sinovac in its national vaccination programme, which currently consists of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

"The county of Singapore just loves to front."

"They gotta please both sides."

"Watch out for Uncle Sam will bear a grudge!"

"Developed countries are still going for political vaccines."

"Most countries in the entire world are using Chinese-made vaccines, except the retards."

Some ridiculed Singapore as well by zeroing in on the country's size.

"(Quote from RT) This country that has a population of 5 million people has basically succeeded in controlling the outbreak (laughing while crying emoji)."

"Singapore still hasn't finished vaccinating its population? How many people can there be in such a small country."

"A booger country."

However, there were a few voices that spoke out against the dominant opinion on the post.

"The caucasians of East Asia."

Reply: "No need (to say this), many Chinese people also want shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines."

"Sinovac is not as good as vaccines that were developed using the mRNA technology, this is also the reason why China is developing mRNA vaccines. Sinovac Biotech's (the Chinese company that produced Sinovac) contribution is to allow countries with no access to mRNA vaccines to also have a path to inoculation.

Reply: "(Sarcastically) Alright smart aleck, you've understood everything that's to be known."

Messages circulating on WhatsApp

Shortly after MOH announced that Sinovac has been allowed for use under the SAR, a few messages criticising its decision to exclude it from the country's national vaccination programme have been seen circulating on WhatsApp.

The messages, seen by Mothership, slammed the Singapore government for requiring citizens to pay for the Sinovac vaccines, and for "discriminating" against the Chinese-made vaccines, even implying that it's "subservient" to another government, like the U.S.

One of the messages called on recipients to forward it to others as well.

A video in which a man, who appeared to be a Chinese national, filmed himself criticising the Singapore government's decision, was also shared on a Facebook public group that discusses local politics in the Chinese language.

The man also parroted talking points that were frequently used by ultra-nationalists, which suggested that foreigners do not wish to see China rise, and that they love to discriminate against Chinese-made vaccines while lapping up those produced in the U.S.

The post attracted more than 100 comments, which were divided over the issue.

HSA awaiting further data

Previously, before the use of Sinovac was allowed under the SAR, Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak clarified on a May 18 press conference that HSA still requires "outstanding items of information" from the manufacturer.

This is to ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective for use, he said, adding that Sinovac has a "shelf-life" of up to two years.

Former Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said back in January that under the SAR, HSA's scientific and clinical experts apply "strict international standards" in assessing Covid-19 vaccines to make sure they meet the stipulated high standards of safety and efficacy.

He added that these standards are the same as those used for full vaccine evaluations, with the difference being that long-term data from clinical trials will only be evaluated later when they become available.

Results from use of Sinovac vaccine

Protection rates offered by Sinovac have varied from country to country.

The WHO's separate Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) -- made up of an independent group of experts -- previously said that Phase III clinical trials in different countries have shown results that ranged from 51 per cent to 84 per cent.

However, doubts were expressed regarding its use, partly due to criticisms of a lack of transparency from the vaccine maker.

For instance, while SAGE said Sinovac is efficacious in preventing Covid-19 in adults under 60, it found that some quality data on the risk of serious adverse effects is lacking.

Notwithstanding these concerns, Sinovac vaccines have been lauded for its high protection rates, such as in the city of Serrana in Brazil's Sao Paulo state.

As part of a four-month trial, most residents had received the Sinovac doses, and the city reportedly saw vast improvements, with deaths falling by 95 per cent, hospitalisations by 86 per cent, and symptomatic cases by 80 per cent, according to AP.

Indonesia's health ministry has also reported that the vaccine has a high efficacy rate of 94 per cent in preventing Covid-19 symptoms among health care workers, Nikkei Asia reported.

Sinovac has been approved for use in 32 countries and regions, including Hong Kong.

Top image by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images