China speeds up vaccine race with trials in developing countries

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, Aug 27 (efe-epa).- China aspires to become the first country in the world to produce a large-scale vaccine against COVID-19, for which it enlisted the help of half a dozen developing countries participating in the final phase of clinical trials.

According to the World Health Organization, of the 26 vaccines that are in the testing phase of the list of more than 170 candidates, three Chinese ones are now in the third and final phase of testing with hopes of finishing first in the race to make a vaccine and thus demonstrate their scientific ability.

Experts consulted by EFE believe China does not seek to obtain economic profit but is instead after the prestige granted and boost its “soft power,” especially among emerging countries.

China, a massive supplier of medical equipment and components around the world, has already tried it with the so-called “mask diplomacy” with the aim of “cleaning up its image” after being accused of hiding the outbreak in its beginnings. It seeks to “take another leap forward,” political scientist Joseph Cheng from the University of Hong Kong told EFE.

“There is a chance that China will be the first in view of the resources put into it, and also because the testing processes will be sped up. China will likely be generous in its support for the Third World countries,” he said.

It is not by chance that the third phase of trials of the vaccine developed by the Military Scientific Institute and the Chinese biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics, takes place in Pakistan, a traditional strategic ally of China that has so far registered almost 300,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Russia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Chile could be added to its testing laboratory in the near future, according to the company, after demonstrating in the second phase that the vaccine, called “Ad5-nCoV”, is “safe and induces an immune response,” according to The Lancent magazine.

Sinopharm, another candidate, would be ready in December at a price lower than 1,000 yuan (144 dollars, 121 euros), according to the president of China National Biotec Group, “once the third phase of tests is finished,” and that is happening in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Peru and Argentina.

According to local media, Sinohparm has invested at least 1 billion yuan – 145,000 million dollars – in the research and development of this vaccine.

China intends that its selling price to the public be set according to production costs, in full harmony with the WHO, which has warned of the emergence of “vaccine nationalism” in the race to find a remedy, in addition to advocating for “access in developing countries” and to “avoid speculation.”

The director of the Department of Development of Science and Technology of the National Health Commission, Zheng Zhongwei, told state television CCTV that the objective will not be to obtain “significant” profits.

“That does not imply that the companies involved cannot make money, but their benefits should be modest,” he said.

Also Liu Jingzhen, president of the National Pharmaceutical Group of China, said Chinese vaccines will be “affordable for everyone,” and that the group has just reached an agreement to test theirs in Peru.

“We are working with the National University of San Marcos and that of Cayetano Heredia to cooperate in phase three clinical trials. They are two of the best universities in Peru,” he said.

However, it is not only about finding a safe and effective vaccine, it is also about ensuring its mass production: for this, Sinopharm has two facilities in Beijing and Wuhan that could guarantee the supply of 200 million doses a year.

These should be injected twice 28 days apart to prolong their validity.

“It is safe and no side effects have been reported so far. At the same time, we are keeping an eye on its effectiveness. The speed with which participants are enrolling in the trials exceeds our expectations. We are very optimistic,” noted the counselor delegate of Yang Xiaoming.

The first doses began to be applied in July to 890 health professionals, although the forecast is to test it to about 9,000 volunteers.

Meanwhile, China and Indonesia recently reached an agreement to test CoronaVac there, while Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced on Monday that his country will give “priority” to the countries through which the Mekong River flows – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – to “supply them with vaccines once they are fully developed and in use.”

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