China joins COVAX alliance for coronavirus vaccine

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – China, which has at least four candidate coronavirus vaccines in the final stage of clinical trials, said on Friday it was joining an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world known as COVAX, a move that could help the country find an international market for its coronavirus vaccines.

The country on Thursday signed an agreement with Gavi, the co-leader of the project, the Chinese foreign ministry said. China initially did not agree to join the alliance, after missing an early deadline to join in September.

“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially in developing countries, and hope more capable countries will join and support COVAX as well,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. . She later added during a daily press briefing that many Chinese vaccine companies have expressed willingness to join the partnership and that China would purchase vaccines for around 1% of its population through COVAX.

The exact terms of the deal and China’s contribution are not yet clear. Countries can choose to purchase vaccines to cover up to 50% of their population, but many developed countries use COVAX as a type of insurance policy to secure additional doses on top of any bilateral agreements signed with pharmaceutical companies. .

Chinese leader Xi Jinping previously said the country would make the vaccine a global public good and distribute its vaccines in Africa – but only after the completion of China’s own immunization program.

The World Health Organization, which also heads COVAX, welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that “the number of countries joining the COVAX facility is increasing every day, and we are delighted to see China there. officially join “.

The initiative is designed to get richer countries to agree to purchase potential vaccines and help finance access for the poorest, but critical questions remain as to how its goal will be achieved. Many countries, including Britain, the United States, France, Germany and others, have directly negotiated their own deals with pharmaceutical companies to receive billions of doses, meaning that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already booked.

Some experts point out that without major efforts to rapidly increase manufacturing capacity globally, Chinese vaccine producers could offer the best chance of supplying the developing world. China’s decision to join COVAX could give the country the opportunity to sign multi-million dollar deals that Gavi and its partners will have to make to secure billions of doses of the vaccine.

The United States, the world’s largest economy, refused to join President Donald Trump, saying COVAX was “influenced by the corrupt WHO and China.” China has the second largest economy in the world.

“China’s membership in COVAX has the dual purpose of filling the leadership vacuum left by the United States in terms of global public health and securing a future vaccine for its population,” said Natasha Kassam, researcher at Lowy Institute of Australia.

A successful vaccine candidate from China could help it repair its reputation abroad. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that negative opinions about China rose sharply in 2020 in some countries. Opinions in democratic countries have hardened after the discovery of the coronavirus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan in China, and a majority of those polled said China had mismanaged the outbreak. Many have criticized China for obscuring early reports of COVID-19.

China was quick to reshape the narrative, calling the virus a common challenge to humanity and even questioning its origin. Previously, as the pandemic spread around the world, it sent medical teams and supplies to affected countries. Most recently, it signed agreements with developing countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines to provide priority access to one of its vaccine candidates and offered a $ 1 billion loan to Latin American countries. .

What remains to be seen is how China will engage in the alliance, said Dr Gagandeep Kang, vice chairman of the board of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, which is also involved. in the direction of COVAX. Most countries are entering COVAX to try to gain access to vaccines that are not manufactured in the country, she said.

China could try to ensure that the vaccines it is developing find a global platform. “For China, it could be across the spectrum. For their vaccines to participate in vaccine delivery (to other countries) and access to vaccines,” said Kang, who is also a microbiologist at Christian Medical. Indian city college. by Vellore.

Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac, for example, recently said it wanted to supply its vaccine to the world, including the United States and European countries with strict regulations that prevented the sale of previous Chinese vaccines.

COVAX plans to purchase 2 billion doses of a vaccine by the end of 2021, although it is not known whether the successful vaccine will require one or two doses.

To date, China has yet to release any late-stage information on any of its vaccine candidates, although it has started to use them more widely in target populations. Without these data, it is not clear how safe and effective the investigational Chinese vaccines are.


Associated Press editors Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report

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