Yang Xiaoming
© SCMPYang Xiaoming is a former chairman of Sinopharm’s vaccine subsidiary, China National Biotec Group
The short answer to the question posed above is that we don't know. But we do know that the vaccine scientist Yang Xiaoming who developed China's first vaccine against COVID-19 has been deposed from China's highest body of state power, the 3,000 member National People's Congress. One wonders how many people even knew he was a member. There is speculation that his suspension may be connected to the development of the vaccine and possible problems with it that have not been revealed.

The first outlet to break this news was Business Insider which reported the story on April 28th. The story was picked up next day by the Hong Kong newspaper of record, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and subsequently reported by Asia News and by the Indian outlets World in One News (WION) and the Economic Times.

The reasons for the expulsion are not stated, except in the Economic Times where they are reported as "graft". However, that remains speculation. For example, Asia Times says that the expulsion is for "serious discipline and law violations" which, according to Business Insider is "a phrase alluding to corruption".

© Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty ImagesYang Xiaoming speaks during 2020 Zhongguancun (ZGC) Forum on September 18, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Strangely, a reliable source in Beijing tells me that, while the news is spreading on the Chinese social networking site Weibo, the news is not being reported officially within China, only on international platforms which he monitors. However, as the news was reported in the SCMP, which increasingly genuflects to the authorities in mainland China, we can be certain that China wants the world to know about Yang's deposition.

Yang oversaw the development of the Sinopharm's BBIBP-CorV vaccine, which was widely used in China and also exported to many other countries. The vaccine, which was declared safe for anyone over 18 including pregnant women, was highly acclaimed by the WHO - always willing to do China's bidding - as being 79% effective both at preventing infection with COVID-19 and at preventing hospitalisation.

What is meant by 79% effective is unclear but almost certainly refers to relative risk reduction, which is virtually meaningless where risk of infection and especially hospitalisation are low, as was the case with COVID-19. This was explained early in 2020 in the Lancet. When reporting vaccine efficacy it is important to report absolute risk reduction (ARR): an individual person's risk when vaccinated compared with being unvaccinated. But misleading figures regarding the efficacy and the effectiveness from 'real world' research of the Sinopharm vaccine continue to be quoted.

However, percentages for ARR are invariably less impressive and, in the case of a range of Covid vaccines, hovered at around 1%. In fact the ARR of the Sinopharm's BBIBP-CorV vaccine was approximately 0.5% for infection with COVID-9 (NB: not hospitalisation or death). For individuals, the protection offered by Sinopharm's BBIBP-CorV vaccine is therefore negligible. Moreover, at the time of making the above claims, the WHO also reported "no substantive data available related to the impact of Sinopharm on transmission of SARS-CoV-2". And no substantive data have been forthcoming.

Of course, this being China, it is hard to get accurate information about the use of Sinopharm's BBIBP-CorV vaccine within China. The Financial Times reported early after the approval of the BBIBP-CorV vaccine in China that "the lack of transparency over the jab's efficacy and waning durability has worried many Chinese, particularly parents of young children and the elderly". But also that "Beijing's censors have quashed any signs of dissent or questioning of the state's response".

It was telling in 2020 that China was reluctant to comment on the vaccine and even when it was adopted by the UAE ahead of China, it made no comment. The UAE approved the vaccine in September of 2020 as opposed to China which waited until December of the same year.

Nevertheless, side-effects from the BBIBP-CorV vaccine do genuinely appear to be mild in several studies. It seems unlikely that something has come to light. After all, the BBIBP-CorV vaccine did not use mRNA technology to induce antibodies; rather it relies on the use of an inactivated virus as an antigen to induce antibodies against COVID-19. This is how most of the vaccines with which we are familiar work, and they are generally associated with few and mild side-effects.

The reasons why Yang Xiaoping was removed from his powerful position having previously been hailed as a hero by the Chinese Communist Party may never be known. It is known, as reported in the outlets above, there is a purge of many senior figures in health care and related commercial companies over corruption and financial irregularities. Yang may be involved and, of course, he may not. One thing is certain, however; he is no longer bathing in the warm glow of Covid vaccine hero-worship.