Frontline doctor calls Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine deal with China “dangerous”

By Lisa Tanh

A frontline physician based in the Greater Toronto Area is warning the public that Canada’s new deal with China to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is “counterproductive” and “dangerous” because of the Chinese government’s longstanding history of secrecy.

Recently, the National Research Council (NRC) announced they are working with a Chinese company CanSino Biologics to develop a vaccine called Ad5-nCoV, which is being developed jointly with the People’s Liberation Army. CanSino has already started their second phase of human clinical trials, despite the first phase not being completed until December. Still, Health Canada has approved the first human clinical trials that will run at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, who is also the president of Concerned Ontario Doctors, a non-profit advocating on healthcare issues impacting frontline physicians and patients, said it is alarming that the second phase has already begun when CanSino has not published any data from its first phase for public scrutiny. 

“The normal vaccine development cycle is 10 to 15 years,” said Gill. “The shortest vaccine development cycle on record is for the mumps vaccine at four years. This human clinical trial with China’s Communist Party’s vaccine is proceeding at an alarmingly dangerous rate without adherence to research ethics and transparency.”

Gill added that it is also alarming that Health Canada may use the vaccine before the study ends in an “emergency release.” There are already some discussions happening about what those steps will entail.

“Even the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week that ‘there is the possibility of negative consequences where certain vaccines could actually enhance the negative effects of the infection,” said Gill. “And the biggest unknown is efficacy […] We must not lose sight of the fact that coronaviruses are a large family of RNA viruses, which include the common cold. No approved human coronavirus vaccines exist.”

Gill highlighted that two other coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, dissipated on their own naturally without any vaccine intervention, and that research for the coronavirus we now face, named SARS-CoV-2, has been “reassuring.”

“There are no confirmed cases of reinfection or reactivation, strong T-cell responses bode well for long-term immunity, and there is residual immunity to common cold coronaviruses that offers some cross-protection against COVID-19. There are also strong indications that the limited testing in Canada is capturing less than 10 per cent of actual cases,” said Gill, adding that SARS-CoV-2 may burn out naturally like SARS and MERS.

Along with the NRC and CanSino’s unusual steps to quickly develop a vaccine, Gill pointed out there are many other reasons why the deal is questionable, some dating back to several years before the outbreak.

“The Five Eyes intelligence alliance, consisting of Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, has raised significant concerns regarding China’s handling of the novel coronavirus calling it an ‘assault on international transparency’ with the disappearance of Chinese scientists and whistleblowers, censorship of scientific data, and fatal denial of human-to-human transmission via the World Health Organization,” said Gill.

According to reports, China stockpiled medical supplies and personal protective equipment before publicly acknowledging the virus was capable of human transmission. Following, they sent Canada and other countries shipments of defective protective equipment, nasal testing swabs, diagnostic kits, and ventilators.

In 2014, the NRC’s computer systems were hacked by a “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” and cost the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars. That same year, the NRC signed a non-exclusive license enabling CanSino to use their HEK293 cell line at no cost. 

In 2018, China faced its “worst public health crisis in years” after discovering that one of its major drug producers violated standards for making at least 250,000 doses of vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children may have been affected. The scandal reportedly shattered Chinese citizens’ confidence in their country’s vaccine quality and safety.

“The role of our governments is to build trust through transparency and accountability,” said Gill. “If the Trudeau government wants Canadians to trust and buy into a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, partnering with the Chinese Communist Party’s military is […] the most counterproductive and dangerous thing it could do. [It] must abandon this illogical and dangerous endeavour, and instead fund vaccine trials with our allied nations who understand the critical importance of trust, ethics, safety, transparency and collaboration.”