China joins WHO’s Covid-19 vaccine program
Friday,Oct 09, 2020
China will take part in a World Health Organization-backed effort to provide a coronavirus vaccine to developing nations, stepping in to fill a void in global health leadership after U.S. President Donald Trump spurned the program.
Beijing on Thursday joined the $18 billion Covax initiative that aspires to give lower-income countries the same access to vaccines as wealthier nations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Details of China’s commitment, including its amount of funding, weren’t immediately disclosed.
“Even when China is leading the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D and with ample production capacity, it still decided to join Covax,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement Friday. “We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support Covax.”
The decision, which comes some three weeks after a deadline set by the initiative, allows China to positively contrast itself with the U.S. as tensions between the world’s two biggest economies spiral on fronts from trade to technology and human rights. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the WHO and refused to join Covax, with a spokesman for the White House saying the U.S. wouldn’t “be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
President Xi Jinping promised in May that vaccines developed by China would be made a global “public good” to be shared by all. The decision could also help the country’s image following widespread criticism from abroad over how it handled the initial outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where Covid-19 first emerged last year. A global survey this week by the Pew Research Center found that negative perceptions of China reached record highs in the U.S. and other major economies.
‘Soft Power Win’
“In many ways this is a soft power win for China, coming amidst a slew of negative reports in other fields in recent weeks,” said Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor in health security at the City University of Hong Kong. “It is a win made all the easier by President Trump’s impetuous decision to withdraw from the WHO and his short-sighted refusal to commit the U.S. to Covax. Now anything America does in this area will be seen as catching up to China, when the U.S. was expected to lead.”
Covid-19 continues to spread in the U.S., hitting even Trump himself. Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who has a double-digit lead over Trump in national polls, vowed in July to rejoin the WHO if he wins the Nov. 3 election “and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
China’s participation is also a big gain for Covax, as the possibility of providing doses to even a fraction of China’s 1.4 billion people would boost critical mass, enhancing the alliance’s negotiating power. Covax is led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the vaccine alliance Gavi. It currently has nine vaccines in development and nine under evaluation in its portfolio, with a goal to address the issue.
Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet and founder of the Center for China and Globalization, called for a “vaccine summit” that includes Group of Seven nations as well as India, Russia and China to address the issue.
“The planet is on fire,” he said. “Leading countries should act together and set aside differences.”
China has been a front-runner in developing vaccines against the coronavirus. Nine of its vaccine candidates have entered clinical trials, and four of them got approval for final stage Phase III clinical trials in foreign countries. Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Egypt have formal agreements with China’s major vaccine manufacturers.
For Beijing, participation would provide a de facto insurance policy that allows it access to any successfully developed vaccine. China could also provide manufacturing support for a successful vaccine, regardless of which country develops it.
“The potential role for Chinese vaccines manufacturers to play in the global rollout under Covax will not only boost the domestic industry, but also help add much-needed credibility to Chinese-developed vaccines,” said Xiaoqing Lu Boynton, a consultant at Albright Stonebridge Group who focuses on health care and life sciences.
It’s also a good PR move.
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