Nanjing Battles Surge in COVID-19 Infections in Vaccinated Individuals

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WUHAN, CHINA - JUNE 21: (CHINA OUT)The medical worker administers a dose COVID-19 vaccine to residents at a community health service on June 21, 2021 in Wuhan, China
WUHAN, CHINA - JUNE 21: (CHINA OUT)The medical worker administers a dose COVID-19 vaccine to residents at a community health service on June 21, 2021 in Wuhan, China. (Image: Getty Images)

On Friday, July 23, health authorities in the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China confirmed 16 new cases of COVID-19 and an additional 12 asymptomatic cases with most of the detected cases affecting vaccinated cleaning staff at the Nanjing Lukou International Airport, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP). 

The infections are being characterized as “breakthrough infections” as all of those infected had been previously inoculated against the disease. Airport and healthcare workers were some of the first to be vaccinated in China. Health experts in China are saying that the cases do not mean that the vaccines are ineffective but continue to urge people to wear masks and to keep up other measures to ward off infection. 

Yang Yi, the deputy head of an expert panel formed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and a doctor with the Southeast University in Nanjing, told SCMP that all of the recently discovered patients had been vaccinated except for one, who is under 18. He stressed that the vaccines were still having an effect despite the climbing infection rates.  

Yang said. “Although they haven’t been ill for long, based on what we’ve observed in the recent outbreaks in Guangdong and Ruili [in Yunnan province], there is a significantly lower chance of [someone who is vaccinated] getting severely ill and the course of the disease is also shorter.”

While the vaccine does not appear to be effective against blocking the transmission of the virus, authorities are quick to point out that vaccinated people who do get the virus are not as sick as unvaccinated people. “So, this shows that the vaccines are still protecting people and we urge you to take precautions and continue to wear a mask even after you get vaccinated.” Wang told SCMP. 

Climbing infection rates despite vaccination

Two days later, on July 25, despite mass inoculation against the disease, Nanjing reported a total of 75 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily total since January 2021 inspiring local authorities to begin the second round of nucleic acid testing. 

In Nanjing, a city of more than 9-million people, authorities are stating that more than 5-million tests have been conducted so far. 

Nanjing authorities said in a social media post that taxi’s and ride-hailing platforms are instructed not to leave the city and it was also announced that several long-distance bus routes, leaving the city, were going to be suspended on July 27.

It appears that the vaccines administered in China are having little impact on the transmission of the virus. 

Last month, at the Shenzhen international airport a customs worker tested positive for the Delta strain as well as an employee at a local restaurant. Both of these infections were considered breakthrough infections since both individuals were inoculated against the virus.

Ma Wenjun, chief scientist with the Guangdong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told SCMP that breakthrough infections happen when the vaccine does not trigger enough of an immune response or the immune system does not produce enough antibodies, adding that a breakthrough infection can also happen when a virus variant is resistant to a vaccine. 

In an article published last month by the Guangdong Preventive Medicine Association Ma wrote, “There is no vaccine that is 100 percent protective, and breakthrough infections will always happen, more or less. People should have a clear understanding of that.”

On June 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally validated the Chinese-made Sinovac-CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. This despite reporting on June 2, that Sinvac is only 51% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 cases. According to Reuters, “China has not provided vaccine effectiveness results against the variant based on large-scale data in clinical trials or real-world use, nor offered detailed information from lab tests, but Chinese experts are urging people to get inoculated as soon as possible.

The lack of detailed data on the Chinese vaccines against the Delta has hobbled any meaningful peer reviews by foreign experts.”

As of July 17, 2021, the WHO is reporting that since January 3, 2020, China has had 120,213 confirmed cases of the virus resulting in the deaths of 5,634 people. It’s reported that a total of 1,479,502,829 vaccine doses have been administered in China.