Turkey has added to a growing list of more than 100 countries that, Chinese state media say, have ordered Covid injections from Chinese companies despite an unusual delay in the release of vaccine safety and efficacy data.
China controversially launched the emergency vaccine use program in July this year, primarily aimed at frontline workers and those traveling overseas. Over the next four months, the government-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) said one million people in China have taken the experimental vaccine. But Beijing has not released any information on the safety or efficacy of the vaccine based on a killed virus, similar to how polio vaccinations work.
The first information on this account came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which approved Sinopharm’s vaccine on December 9, citing data from its Phase III clinical trials. The UAE ministry of health said the studies showed 86% efficacy, less than the 94.1% reported for Moderna’s vaccine and 95% for the Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration. Abu Dhabi’s move to announce the 86% figure is unusual because there has been no statement from the company about the effectiveness of its vaccine.
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“Generally [clinical trial] the data is revealed by the sponsor and eventually published in a peer-reviewed journal, “Peter Shapiro, senior director of pharmaceuticals at GlobalData, told Nikkei Asia.
Bahrain followed in the UAE’s footsteps days later. And the first shipment of Sinopharm’s Chinese vaccine, approved by the UAE’s close ally, landed in Egypt soon after. By that time, Indonesia had received 1.2 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, the experimental Covid-19 CoronaVac vaccine; another 1.8 million doses will arrive in January.
Analysts have described China’s effort to promote and push its vaccines as an opportunity for Beijing to strengthen its international influence in the developing world, particularly after funding for President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative have slowed and criticism has risen over his handling of the coronavirus emergency in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Against this backdrop, President Xi promised the World Health Assembly in May to make China’s vaccine a “global public good”.
“It has also become a tool to increase China’s global influence and smooth out … geopolitical issues,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP.
Additionally, analysts warn that vaccine diplomacy, as China’s spread to developing countries has been called, may not be unconditional.
“Beijing could use its vaccine donations to advance its regional agenda, particularly on sensitive issues such as its claims in the South China Sea,” Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia and Klaus Heinrich Raditio said, according to the AFP news agency. in a paper published this month by the Singapore-based Yusof Ishak Institute.
It also makes economic sense for China. According to an estimate by a Hong Kong-based brokerage firm Essence Securities cited by the news agency, China could exploit gold at the bottom of the pyramid, earning about $ 2.8 billion in sales if Beijing could only capture the 15% of the vaccine market in the middle and low-income countries.
Not everyone, however, is willing to bet on Chinese vaccines in the absence of data on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
First, Cambodia, China’s closest ally in the region, has unveiled plans to acquire 1 million doses for the first batch of Covid-19 vaccinations. However, he made it clear that he will not go for untested vaccines but will use the UN-backed Covax facility which subsidizes vaccines for 92 low-income countries.
“Cambodia is not a trash can … and it is not a place for vaccine testing,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said this month, a clear signal that Phnom Penh is unlikely to occupy the Chinese prime minister at this stage. Li Keqiang on his offer in October to provide vaccines as a priority.