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OPINION-China’s Vaccine Production and Diplomacy

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has made strenuous efforts at producing vaccines and making them as, according to President Xi Jinping, “public goods” that can and will help other countries in the world in the joint containment of the deadly infectious and gradually mutated disease.

In December 2020, while the Western media tended to focus on the production and progress of Pfizer’s vaccine, some countries in Asia and Middle East were interested in the vaccines produced by China. In mid-December, The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the PRC counterpart Wang Yi over a phone call that Tukey would like to urgently purchase the Chinese vaccines. Cavusoglu’s remarks were made after the Turkish Health Department’s agreement reached with the Chinese company Sinovac to buy 50 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. Considering the mutating nature of Covid-19 and the aggravating situation in Europe and the US, the Turkish move naturally aimed at protecting Turkey’s citizens immediately. About 13,000 volunteers in Turkey participated in Sinovac’s Phase Three clinical trials. 

In late 2020, other countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Chile decided to purchase the Sinovac vaccine. In December, Indonesia received the first shipment of 1.2 million doses of Chinese vaccine. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) approved the purchase of another vaccine produced by the China National Biotec Group (CNBG) under the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). At the same time, Hungary considered the Chinese vaccines apart from its procurement from Europe and Russia because of the perceived inadequacy of inoculating its 10 million population.

In early January 2021, fifteen vaccines developed by the PRC companies were undergoing various trial phases in different countries, including the UAE, Brazil, Pakistan and Peru. Five of these vaccines are in the final stage of clinical trials.These five Chinese vaccines embrace two inactivated vaccines developed by Sinopharm, one inactivated vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech, one adenoviral vector vaccine developed by the PRC Academy of Military Sciences and the Chinese biotech company CanSino, and one vaccine developed by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy.

As some of the Chinese vaccines made a breakthrough in international recognition, they are undergoing mass production for domestic use. Sinopharm Holdings has tested the capacity, capability, distribution and transportation of vaccines, and it will also oversee the nationwide distribution of two inactivated vaccines.

According to Global Times, China started earlier in the research and production of vaccines but lagged behind other Western countries in phase three trials – a phenomenon due to three factors, namely the short-term easing of Covid-19 in the fall of 2020, the emergence of communication gaps, and the inexperience of Chinese companies in their international cooperation. Nevertheless, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the desire of all countries in the world to contain it provided a golden opportunity for the Chinese vaccine companies to reach out to the international market. 

In early December 2020, the inactivated vaccine of Sinopharm reportedly had an efficacy rate of 86 percent based on an interim analysis of phase three clinical trials in UAE. In late December, the local government of Sao Paulo said that CoronaVac – a vaccine produced by Sinovac – was over 50 percent effective. There is a partnership between the Sao Paulo-based Butantan Institute and the PRC pharmaceutical company Sinovac.

Although Pfizer has an efficacy rate of reportedly 95 percent, its mRNA vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius in the processes of transportation and storage. As such, Global Timescommented that “this is a vaccine designed for rich countries, rather than for developing countries.” Moreover, there were cases of “severe allergic reactions,”…

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