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Beijing honors vow to ensure fairer access to vaccines

By Yao Yuxin | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-04 07:50


Editor's Note: Beijing has been dispatching COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries in keeping with its promise to supply 10 million doses of Chinese-made vaccines to the global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX. Two experts share their views on China's role in ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines with China Daily's Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:

Vaccine distribution must be based on need

The devastating novel coronavirus pandemic and the shortage of vaccines have prompted rich countries to grab the lion's share of the vaccines given their strong purchasing power. Some of them have even placed orders for tens of millions of more vaccines than they need to inoculate their entire population.

By contrast, many low-and middle-income countries have received few or no vaccines, which, as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, may put the world on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure".

Driven by profits, private enterprises in some developed countries have little interest in making vaccines global public goods. Besides, vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, both US companies, need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures which many low-and middle-income countries cannot, thus creating another vaccine barrier.

On the other hand, in line with the spirit of building a community with a shared future for mankind, China, despite the majority of its population awaiting vaccination, has been supplying vaccines to other developing countries.

China joined the WHO-led COVAX in October, and since then it has taken measures to ensure equitable vaccine distribution, including supplying 10 million vaccine doses to other developing countries.

But some Western politicians have deliberately misinterpreted China's goodwill gesture as "vaccine diplomacy" to win the support of other developing countries. This is a classic example of the West playing the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" card against Beijing.

China, however, should keep doing what it believes is right regardless of the West's criticisms, not least because many developing countries have appreciated its timely help with vaccines.

The distribution of vaccines should depend on need, not on money power. And to ensure developing countries get fairer access to the vaccines, the United Nations should play the most important role in vaccine distribution.

The lack of standardization (under the International Organization for Standardization) for the vaccines made by different countries is hindering the global cooperation for the free flow of the vaccines. For example, a German diplomat in Beijing recently told me that he can neither take a Chinese vaccine nor a German vaccine, because the former isn't covered by his German health insurance company against any eventuality, and the latter is unavailable in China.

Since the novel coronavirus has already infected more than 114 million people worldwide and claimed 2.53 million lives, perhaps the WHO should grant universal licensing for effective vaccines, allowing them to enter new markets without repeatedly going through the complicated procedures of drug certification of different countries.

Given that a number of common challenges require better global collaboration to address such as climate change, the fair distribution of vaccines is a test to determine whether the world can work together to overcome global threats. The "ideology first" approach will not help the world defeat the virus. And vaccine monopoly will put everyone at risk including the rich countries, while making concerted global efforts to contain the pandemic will save lives and boost the global economy.

Wang Yiwei, a professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China

China is shouldering its global responsibilities

The vaccines of Chinese drug makers Sinopharm and Sinovac meet the medical standards of China and the WHO, and have proven safe and effective at home and abroad. By enacting a vaccine management law, China has strictly supervised the whole process of vaccine production, guaranteeing the efficacy and safety of Chinese-made vaccines.

Since China largely contained the pandemic at home before other countries, the phase-three clinical trials of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines were conducted in some other countries as well, making it hard to unify the data flowing in from multiple places.

Yet the participation of third parties in collection and analysis of data makes the disclosure open and transparent. The fact that Chinese vaccines are safe and effective is strictly based on the results of the clinical trials.

A growing number of countries have acknowledged the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccines. And as promised, the Chinese government is supplying 10 million vaccines to other developing countries to facilitate the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Besides, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines don't need ultra-low temperature for storage and thus can be more easily transported in developing countries.

Also, like the other major countries, China has started inoculating its population-more than 50 million people have already been vaccinated in the country. And the domestic demand for about 2 billion doses of vaccines is likely to be met by the end of 2021, thanks to China's strong production capacity and government support.

Moreover, China has been able to supply vaccines to other developing countries because of its five R&D and 18 production lines. At the R&D facilities, scientists are closely monitoring the novel coronavirus's mutations so they can replace the strains in the vaccines and put them into production within a short time, and warn the health authorities in advance about a possibly graver health crisis.

According to a paper by Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the preprint research site bioRxiv, the inactivated vaccine by Sinopharm-affiliated Beijing Institute of Biological Products, and recombinant dimeric RBD ZF2001 vaccine in ongoing phase-three clinical trials jointly conducted by Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are effective even against the South African strain of the virus.

In the global fight against the coronavirus, China has not shied away from shouldering its responsibilities as a major country. It has made its vaccines global public goods to make them easily available to the developing world.

Feng Duojia, chairman of China Association for Vaccines


Wang Jiaqi contributed to the story.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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