China brings out its censors over vaccine critique

Gao Fu, director of the China Centers for Disease Control, speaking at a vaccines and health conference in Chengdu, southwest China, on Saturday.
A version of this story appeared in the April 12 edition of CNN's Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.

(CNN)China's top disease control official made a rare public admission about the relatively low efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines developed in the country, adding that authorities are weighing options to bolster protection, including mixing different shots and increasing the number of doses.

"The protection rates of existing vaccines are not high," Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Saturday. "It is time to formally consider whether we should use vaccines developed from different technologies to boost immunization," he said, adding that China must not overlook mRNA vaccines.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots used widely in the United States and several other countries use mRNA technology, a new type of vaccine that sends messages to cells in the body to produce a protein that provides protection against Covid-19. The two most commonly used Covid-19 vaccines in China -- the locally developed Sinovac and Sinopharm -- are based on inactivated viruses.
    But Gao's remarks were controversial in China and, as his comments gained traction on social media and international news platforms, Chinese censors quickly scrubbed discussions online. State media swiftly put out an interview with Gao to walk back his comments.
      Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, quoted Gao as saying reports about his admission were "a complete misunderstanding," and published new, toned-down remarks from Gao.
        There is little data to show what the impact would be from mixing different types of vaccines, though clinical trials have begun. France announced last week it would offer alternative shots to people under 55 who had received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) established a "possible link" between the shot and a very rare blood disorder that can cause severe blood clots. EMA has not issued advice on mixing and matching vaccines, because of the lack of data.


          Q. How good are these vaccines? Why should I get a vaccine that is lower in efficacy than another?
          A. Of the vaccines authorized for use in the United States, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots give about 95% protection against symptomatic Covid-19, and both are virtually 100% effective against severe illness. In their clinical trials, no one who was vaccinated died from Covid-19.
          The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 72% effective against Covid-19 among US trial participants and 85% effective against severe disease. Like the other two vaccines, no one who was vaccinated during the clinical trial died from Covid-19.
          But that doesn't mean Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is worse than the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Johnson & Johnson's was tested later, when coronavirus cases were surging and new variant strains were spreading more widely. And unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses, the Johnson & Johnson shot requires only one dose.
          Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you're facing: +1 347-322-0415.


          Hair salons and beer gardens -- England crawls out of lockdown
          After four months under strict lockdown, people across England can now go shopping, get their hair cut, and go for a drink or a meal at a pub beer garden or restaurants with outdoor seating, in what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a "major step forward in our roadmap to freedom."
          Gyms and zoos will also be able to reopen, as long as they all have Covid-secure measures in place. The relaxation of measures in England comes as the UK -- which also includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- has vaccinated at least 32 million people with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, nearly half its total population. Some 7 million people, more than 10% of the population, have had both doses.
          Germany moves closer to national lockdown as ICUs near capacity
          German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government has drafted a law to give the federal government the power to impose a national lockdown, German newspaper Welt reported, as infection cases there steadily rise and doctors warn that intensive care units (ICUs) are under severe strain.
          Germany surpassed 3 million infections on Monday, official public health data shows, after a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases and 99 more deaths. The total death toll is now 78,452 in the nation of 83 million. The country's intensive care association director Christian Karagiannidis said Germany had reached "the peak" of ICU bed occupancy, warning that healthcare workers are "breaking down."
          The country's Covid-19 response was celebrated in the early months of the pandemic largely because of its very high number of hospital and ICU beds, and Merkel's ability to bring regional leaders together to implement uniform nationwide measures. This year, however, Germany's vaccine rollout has also been slow, and it is now looking to Russia's Sputnik shot amid shortages and safety concerns around the AstraZeneca vaccine.
          Long-haulers are struggling to convince doctors they have long Covid
          Lyth Hishmeh felt ill for months after being infected with the coronavirus last year. The 26-year-old was once a regular runner, but he felt fatigued and breathless, and struggled to function, with chest pains and poor concentration. Yet medical professionals kept telling him he simply could not still be ill. "They were telling me it's all in my head," he told CNN's Ivana Kottasová.
          Proving they are still sick months after being infected has been half the battle for people around the world suffering with long Covid. In the UK alone, almost 700,000 people in the country reported having symptoms for three months after infection. Some 70,000 say the symptoms lasted for more than a year.
          Health experts are now warning of a global "second pandemic" of longhauler Covid-19. They say the UK is failing to address the problem adequately, and are worried less wealthy nations could suffer even more.

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          Crowds gather for a dip in the Ganges River, in Haridwar, India, on Monday.

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          As a pediatrician, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez spends many of her days with nervous moms and dads listening to why they're worried about their kids receiving vaccinations. "It often manifests as just complete disagreements on how to raise kids," said Bracho-Sanchez.
          To navigate the complexity, she tells families that she would never judge parents or accuse them of not loving their kids any less if they're afraid of vaccinations. She just asks that they talk about it, and skeptical parents often come around.
          Bracho-Sanchez is now applying those hard-won experiences in how she talks with her own family members hesitant to get their Covid-19 shot. "These are new vaccines and that comes with a reaction and a fear that is very real," she said. "I think we also have to remember there is massive misinformation out there." Her skills, and those of pediatricians like her, can help you as you talk with your own loved ones about getting protected against Covid-19. Here's how.


          "Chinatown was seen as the source of where these diseases emerged. Chinatown was a neglected neighborhood."
            — Laureen Hom, Assistant Professor of Political Science at California State Polytechnic University Pomona.
            More than a century ago, the people of San Francisco's Chinatown came together in the face of racism and built their own hospital. Now, Covid-19 has brought the community together again. In today's episode, CNN's Harmeet Kaur tells us the origins of Chinese Hospital and how its legacy carries on today. Listen now.