China risks over a million deaths if Omicron spreads, but available Western vaccines can prevent this

Posted on Mar 22, 2022

New analysis by Airfinity shows more than a million lives are at risk if the Omicron wave spreads throughout mainland China. 

Despite higher vaccination rates, China has lower protection in the population than Hong Kong due to the lower efficacy vaccines administered. 

Most of these deaths can be prevented if alternative and available Western vaccines were used as boosters in China. 

Airfinity’s risk analysis examines the case fatality ratio in Hong Kong, using this as a proxy for what could happen in China.

China has vaccinated its citizens with its domestically produced vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm. These inactivated virus vaccines have significantly lower efficacy and provide less protection against infection and death. In addition, lower vaccine and booster coverage of those over 60 may lead to higher death rates.

Hong Kong has faced the surge of Omicron cases at the same time as New Zealand with very different outcomes. New Zealand also has low acquired immunity from infection in the population but its vaccination rates are much higher, particularly among the elderly. The higher efficacy vaccines rolled out in New Zealand have also offered greater protection. 

Airfinity analysis shows Hong Kong’s case fatality ratio is 20x higher than New Zealand. If China faced an Omicron wave with protection levels similar to New Zealand, our analysis shows deaths could be reduced to 45,000.

China could bolster protection in its population by administering booster jabs with higher efficacy vaccines. 

Airfinity analysis of current COVID-19 vaccine stocks shows there are enough alternative doses available to give 54% of China’s population a booster shot with alternative vaccines.

The analysis estimates high income and upper middle income countries have 750 million doses of non-Chinese vaccines which could be redistributed immediately.

Airfinity’s Analytics Director Dr Matt Linley says, “Over the past 2 years China has been able to stop outbreaks but Omicron might prove to be harder to contain. If China abandoned its zero-COVID strategy or lockdowns failed to suppress Omicron then it’s likely the country would see a high death toll. Boosting vaccination rates, particularly among the elderly, with more effective vaccines would be the best way to protect the population.”

Get in touch to discuss Airfinity's predictive modelling capabilities.

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