Some criticize Lasso’s quest for Chinese and Russian vaccines, others say it’s the path out of the pandemic

May 5, 2021

Three Quito physicians are questioning President-elect Guillermo Lasso’s efforts to purchase Covid-19 vaccines from China and Russia, claiming the doses have not been adequately vetted by researchers. In a letter to Lasso, the doctors claim the Chinese Sinovac and Russian Sputnik V vaccines “have not undergone the rigorous testing” applied to vaccines approved for use in the European Union and the United States.

Students receive the Sinovac vaccine at a vaccination center at Peking University in Beijing.

Ecuador has contracted for two million doses of the Sinovac vaccine and has already administered more than 400,000. The country is also using the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines in its mass inoculation program.

“We are not saying these vaccines are not good but we are concerned that they have not undergone the same level of testing that has been applied to vaccines in North America and Europe,” says Diego Martinez, a private practice physician and one of the three signers of the letter to Lasso. “We encourage the new president to concentrate on acquiring vaccines that have been approved by EU and U.S. testing agencies.”

Other doctors disagree, saying Sinovac and Sputnik V have, in fact, been properly tested and are effective. “The WHO [World Health Organization] has already approved Sputnik and will approve Sinovac this week,” says Carlos Almeida, a hospital administrator and former regional director the health ministry. “Just because a vaccine doesn’t go through the same process used in the United States for Europe doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. This is much more of a political issue than a health issue and we cannot afford to waste time on politics during the current crisis.”

In comments made in several interviews, Lasso appears to agree. “I am contacting every legitimate source of vaccines available so we have enough doses to end the epidemic in Ecuador,” he says. “I have been in touch with the U.S. government and makers of the Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines. On the other hand, I and my advisors have read the research literature and believe the Russian and Chinese vaccines are very effective and very safe. My first responsibility is to the people of Ecuador and I have no interest in engaging in a geopolitical debate at this critical time.”

Almeida said that the research on both the Sputnik and Sinovac vaccines show them to be slightly less effective in preventing mild and moderate cases of Covid-19 but equally as effective to the North American and European vaccines for preventing hospitalization and death.

Nikolaos Kyriakidis, a research professor at the University of the Americas in Quito (UDLA), says that early results in Ecuador from the Sinovac vaccine are positive. “In my work following up with those who have received the Sinovac, I have found no serious cases of Covid-19 two weeks after the second dose was administered,” he says. “It is as effective and safe as the Pfizer doses.”