This article is based on research by Factcheck Lab, a Hong Kong fact-checking agency and Global Voices associate to which the author belongs.
Since September 22, some news and social media posts have been circulating on the Chinese internet in which it is erroneously alleged that the scientific director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that China's vaccines against COVID-19 “have proven results.”
These reports and posts cite a one-minute video created by China Central Television (CCTV) for Miaopai, a Chinese video broadcasting app. The video shows a speech by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the importance of developing a vaccine against COVID-19, followed by statements by Swaminathan.
In the CCTV video, with the caption “WHO Scientific Director: Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Has Proven Results” (世卫 组织 首席 科学家 ： 中国 的 新 冠 疫苗 已 被 证明 有效), Swaminathan's speech is this:
As you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program and several of their vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trial, so this is also of interest to us, so we're following those very closely. Some of their candidates actually prove to be successful in the clinical trials that are going on.
As you may know, (in China) they also have a very active vaccine development program, and several of their candidate vaccines are in advanced stages of clinical studies, so they are of great interest to us, and we are very vigilant. Indeed, some of its candidates have been shown to have a successful effect in ongoing clinical studies.
However, Swaminathan's original speech is edited. His last sentence actually started with a conditional “yes”, and the background music in the video makes it sound like he says “tried” rather than “test.”
Swaminathan's full statement is as follows:
We've been engaged in discussions with China for the last several months because, as you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program and several of their vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trial so this is also of interest to us. so we're following those very closely. We've had very constructive and open discussions with them and they have always been reiterating their commitment to global access if some of their candidates actually prove to be successful in the clinical trials that are going on (emphasis added). So I think the conversations are going on, it's still open and we're hopeful that more countries are going to join.
We have been in conversation with China over the past few months because, as you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program, and several of their candidate vaccines are in advanced stages of clinical studies, so they are of great interest to us, and we are very pending. We had very open and constructive discussions with them, and they always reiterated their commitment to global access if any of your candidates really prove to have a successful effect in the clinical studies that are being carried out (emphasis added). That is why I believe that the talks continue, remain open, and we hope that more countries will join.
The remarks were made during a WHO virtual press conference held on September 21. Here you can see the full transcript of the conference, which lasted an hour and a half.
The purpose of the press conference was to present an update on the $ 18 billion initiative by WHO and other organizations to develop a future vaccine against COVID-19 around the world. So far 156 countries have joined the program; neither China nor the United States are among them.
As anticipated, the CCTV video and the news and posts that emerged from the video attracted wide patriotic approval. A Daily Economic News post on Weibo has over 337,000 reactions. These are some of the most popular comments:
为 您 骄傲 ， 我 的 国。 这 是 国庆 中秋 最好 的 礼物
I am so proud of you, my country. It is the best gift for National Day and Fall Festival.
中国 速度 ， 你 无法 想象 ， 为 祖国 自豪 ，
They cannot imagine how fast China is. I feel immense pride in my mother country.
中国 拯救 了 全世界
China saves the world.
After fact-checkers pointed out that Dr. Swaminathan's words had been misrepresented, some outlets, such as CGTN and CCTV, deleted her posts from social media. For example, the Communist Youth League of China, whose post was captured on Twitter by @ Emi2020JP before it disappeared from Weibo:
先给 谭 德塞 来 两 针！ pic.twitter.com/IvIbSFl2XY
– Emi エ ミ JP (@ Emi2020JP) September 28, 2020
Tedros should get vaccinated first.
Like @ Emi2020JP, many Twitter users believe that the WHO was helping China in distorting the video, and posted furious comments about Tedros:
谭 德塞 就是 痰罐 刷
Tedros is a toilet brush!
我 出錢 給 扊 得 塞 多 打 几 支！
I pay to give Tedros some extra shots!
昨天 我 妈 还说 ， 国内 新闻 报道 美国 向 中国 购买 大量 疫苗。 我 听后 连 解释 的 欲望 都 没有 了。 谁 他们 自己 意淫 吧。
Yesterday my mom said that the United States will buy a huge quantity of vaccines from China. I don't even bother to explain. May they live in their fantasy.
從 散播 病毒 隱匿 疫情 到 幫 中國 推銷 疫苗 真的 是 一條龍 服務 喔！
What an excellent service, from covering up the spread of the virus to promoting the Chinese vaccine!
Although many Chinese posts were deleted, copies continue to circulate on social media, such as this post on WeChat.
Beijing sympathetic outlets in Hong Kong, such as Speak Out HK (港人 講 地） and Today Review (今日 正言), also released news from that video.
There are nearly two hundred COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials around the world, with several being developed in laboratories in China. None have yet successfully passed phase 3 of the tests.