2022-01-12 10:17:50

Chinese health experts have reemphasized the role of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, in combating COVID-19 at a time when several fully vaccinated people were found to be infected with Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the northern city of Tianjin.

“TCM will play a greater role in treating Omicron, which is based on our previous clinical experience of treating patients overseas,” Zhang Boli, a member of an expert group at the National Health Commission and president of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said during a press conference Tuesday. “The patients turn negative relatively faster, and the chance of it developing into a severe disease is lower.”

In a separate interview with state-run Xinhua News Agency the same day, Zhang added that authorities have also prescribed additional TCMs “targeting the new features of Omicron.”

Chinese officials have promoted the use of TCM against COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, though some experts questioned its effectiveness. Last year, authorities also said the country plans to build several “inheritance and innovation” centers to study the use of TCM in treating and preventing epidemics.

Discussions on using TCM to treat COVID-19 come amid dozens of breakthrough infections in Tianjin, where fully vaccinated people tested positive for the coronavirus. Local authorities said all but one of the 80 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city were vaccinated — while the only unvaccinated patient was a child, 76 were fully vaccinated, 20 of them boosted, and three of them had received their first shot.

In the wake of an ongoing virus surge, Chinese health authorities have encouraged citizens to get their booster shots. A study published by Chinese experts in December showed booster shots — either using different technologies than the first two doses or the same kind of vaccine — could reduce severe disease and mortality caused by the highly transmissible virus, though the country hasn’t greenlighted the mix-and-match approach.

However, the World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition on Tuesday said that “repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable” against the new variants. The group added that the current vaccines may need to be updated to provide continued protection against Omicron and other future variants.

On Tuesday, China logged 166 confirmed local COVID-19 infections, with the majority of cases in the central province of Henan and Tianjin, according to the National Health Commission. Meanwhile, infections in the northwestern city of Xi’an, which is in its third week of lockdown after a virus surge, dropped to single digits.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A medical worker at a COVID-19 test spot in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Jan. 10, 2022. People Visual)