The world's most vaccinated country is ... having a COVID wave

(The Ocean Agency via AP)

Looks like the vaccines are a bust!

No, not our vaccines. China’s vaccines. But you already knew that.

Let’s back up. Contrary to popular belief, the nation with the highest percentage of its population that’s been fully vaccinated isn’t Israel. It’s the tiny country of Seychelles, located off of Africa’s east coast in the Indian Ocean. They’ve fully vaxxed 62.2 percent of their people, the only nation on earth to cross the 60 percent threshold. And yet:

That’s not supposed to happen. How can a country with more immunity per capita than any other be experiencing a wave of COVID?

Bloomberg is hunting for clues:

By April 12, 59% of the doses administered [in Seychelles] were Sinopharm vaccines and the rest were Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca Plc’s shot made under license in India…

The number of active cases in the nation rose to 1,068 on May 3 from 612 on April 28, according to the health ministry.

Of those cases, 84% are Seychellois and the rest are foreigners, Daniel Lucey, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, said in a blog post. Just under two thirds of those are either unvaccinated or have only had one dose, and the rest have had two doses, he said.

Right off the bat we see that most of the new cases are turning up in people who haven’t had their shots yet, which isn’t an argument that the vaccines don’t work. To the contrary.

But the first big clue has to do with which vaccines they’re using. Sinopharm is a Chinese product, donated by the UAE to Seychelles. It’s not the same vaccine as Sinovac, a Chinese vaccine that’s in use in Chile and made headlines recently for offering very little protection after a single dose. But there are doubts about Sinopharm too. The company itself claims that its vaccine is 79 percent effective after two doses while a UAE study found that it’s 86 percent effective. But the head of China’s CDC recently admitted that his country’s COVID vaccines just aren’t very effective and the UAE began experimenting with giving people a *third* dose of Sinopharm due to “reports of low numbers of antibodies produced in some people.”

This data from the UAE, the source of Seychelles’s vaccine supply, isn’t encouraging either:

The UAE has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, behind Israel but ahead of the UK. Instead of experiencing the spectacular decline in cases that those two countries have seen, though, they continue to muddle along with an elevated rate of daily infections. How come?

Maybe they’re using a bum vaccine.

There’s a second problem. Because Seychelles is a small island country it depends heavily on tourism, which means it’s at constant risk of new variants being brought in. And because of its location in the Indian Ocean, it stands to reason that it might see a higher than usual share of the South African and Indian variants. In fact, notes Bloomberg, “the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa late last year, was found in the Seychelles in February.” Which is a big deal, because guess which vaccine has already been found to provide little protection against the South African variant. Yep — AstraZeneca, the other product that Seychelles has been using in large quantities. God only knows how effective or not Sinopharm is against the South African and Indian variants by comparison, but strong variants plus weak vaccines equals bad news.

Our mRNA vaccines are stronger. Even Pfizer is a bit less effective against the South African variant, but the numbers from Israel don’t lie:

Israel is using Pfizer and their average daily cases dipped below 70 today for the first time since June 1, 2020. The UK, meanwhile, is using Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca and here’s what their death curve looks like after many millions of first doses and a long lockdown:

They’re averaging 13 deaths per day now, down 99 percent from their winter peak. The last time their death toll was that low was around eight months ago. The vaccines are working. At least, the western ones are.