China joins COVAX, to provide vaccines to developing countries first

By Leng Shumei and Li Xuanmin Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/9 9:01:50 Last Updated: 2020/10/9 20:39:50



China on Thursday signed an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to officially join COVAX, a global platform that supports the research and development (R&D) as well as manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, China's Foreign Ministry announced on Friday. 

The move plays a positive role in demonstrating the importance of international cooperation to the world amid negative effects the US casts on the global battle against the pandemic by withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO) and international public health actions, Chinese experts said.   

The agreement is an important step taken by China to uphold the concept of a shared community of health for all and to honor its commitment to turn potential COVID-19 vaccines into a global public good, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement released on the ministry's website. 

The COVID-19 pandemic still poses a severe threat to the safety and health of people in all countries, Hua said, noting that China continues to focus on ensuring that developing countries have equal access to appropriate, safe and effective vaccines. 

Hua said at a routine press conference on Friday that, as far as she knew, some Chinese vaccine producers have also expressed interest in joining COVAX and are discussing vaccine R&D, authentication and supervision.

China has the same goal as the COVAX facility; that is, promoting international cooperation in COVID-19 vaccine R&D and favoring developing countries in vaccine supply, Su Xiaohui, deputy director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Following the US' withdrawal from the WHO and refusal to join the facility, China's latest move would play a positive role in encouraging more countries to join in international cooperation, Su noted. 

COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April by several global organizations including the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations  in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of September 21, 156 countries and regions have signed deals to join the COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan, the Guardian reported. The world's largest economy, the US, has so far decided to sit COVAX out. 

China is not among the first 156 countries to have announced their participation, which experts previously considered was because the country was still in communication about some details, waiting to join until full preparations were made. 

Even as China leads the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D and with ample production capacity, it still decided to join COVAX. We are taking this concrete step to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX, Hua said.

China will also strengthen vaccine cooperation with relevant countries through the COVAX network. To that end, we have solemnly pledged to make vaccines developed and deployed by China a global public good, which will be provided to developing countries as a priority. Therefore, China has maintained close communication with COVAX with a positive attitude toward joining it, she stressed. 

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Friday that the move shows that China is wholeheartedly contributing to the global battle against the pandemic.  

According to Zeng, the first outbreak happened in China before the US and Europe became hard hit countries, while a third outbreak could still occur in some developing countries. These countries are facing a worsening situation and lack not only vaccines and appropriate drugs, but also the capacity to conduct mass testing and clearly count the number of infections and deaths. 

China is therefore doing all it can to help developing countries, Zeng said, noting that allocating vaccines fairly would be a big challenge for COVAX participants.

Four China-developed COVID-19 vaccine candidates are currently in Phase-III clinical trials and two of them have been approved by the national authority for emergency use. 

Chinese health officials revealed in September that the country will be able to produce 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. 

The estimated 1 billion yearly output would be enough for China to meet domestic demand as well as supply foreign countries, Su said, noting that joining COVAX would also offer "double insurance" for China's vaccine supply. 

Chinese companies also hailed the participation and actively prepare to expand production to meet international demand. 

"The COVAX facility is especially important to developing countries as it ensures equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for both developed and developing countries," Dongxu Qiu, Senior Vice President and Co-Founder at CanSino Biologics Inc., said in an interview with CGTN on Friday. 

Qiu said that a new production house of the company is under construction and the company eyes a yearly output of 200-300 million doses. 

A recombinant COVID-19 vaccine candidate co-developed by CanSino and a team led by Chinese military expert Chen Wei is currently undergoing Phase-III clinical trials in Pakistan and Russia, and primary results of the trials are expected in early 2021, according to Qiu.

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