Is China working on a vaccine?

China has moved up a gear in the pivotal area of vaccine diplomacy, with a string of positive announcements from Beijing.

SinoVac, the Chinese pharmaceutical firm, says its vaccine is nearly ready and will be rolled-out across the world early next year.  

Sinovac is one of four Chinese vaccines in last-stage human trials, a higher number than any other nation in the world. 

However, some are concerned about the quality of the vaccines and that they are being used to gain political leverage.

Beijing was so confident in its homegrown inoculations that authorities had been administering vaccines for more than a month before clinical studies conclude, authorities revealed at the beginning of September.

The Chinese government has provided sparse details on which vaccines are being given to people, and how many have been vaccinated, leading to concerns participation may be forced and not voluntary. 

The SinoVac vaccine, which involves two shots administered two to four weeks apart, has so far been given to 3,000 of the company’s employees in an effort to demonstrate safety. 30,000 worldwide have so far received the vaccine during clinical trials.

Beijing has been particularly supportive of the SinoVac project, building a new production facility capable of producing 300 million doses per year. SinoVac CEO Yin Weidong has said he hopes the vaccine will be used by people all over the world, including those in “the US and EU”.

However, it remains to be seen if the vaccine will pass strict western safety protocols.

Experts are starting to wonder whether China’s strategy of focusing on “old school” vaccine technologies may eventually prove to be more prudent.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a state-run vaccine company, said in mid-September that early data from its phase three trials showed that its two leading immunisations were effective in preventing volunteers contracting Covid-19 – the first time a claim of efficacy has been made.

A Chinese vaccine candidate, called BBIBP-CorV,  based on inactivated coronavirus is safe and elicits an antibody response, preliminary results have shown.

The research, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Disease, was not designed to assess efficacy of the vaccine, however, so it is not possible to say whether the antibody responses induced by the vaccine are sufficient to protect from coronavirus infection.

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