BEIJING, Dec. 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the world has raced against time, battling the pandemic as it wreaked havoc across the globe. Developing safe and effective vaccines is one of the most crucial steps in the fight against the virus.
For the last nearly three years, China has made strides in its COVID-19 vaccine research and taken concrete steps toward fulfilling its commitment to making the vaccines a global public good.
China at the forefront of vaccine research
In January 2020, Chinese researchers quickly revealed the full genome sequence of the virus after the first epidemic outbreak at the end of 2019. The decision to make the data public was praised by global scientists.
Jeremy Farrar, a medical researcher and director at Wellcome Trust, a London-based charitable foundation on health research, described it as a “potentially really important moment in global public health-must be celebrated” in a tweet.
In March 2020, the adenovirus vector vaccine developed by a team led by Chinese military medical scientist Chen Wei became the first vaccine in China approved to enter clinical trials.
After the first phase of trials was completed, the second phase of trials started in April. At that time, China’s COVID-19 vaccine was the first in the world to enter the second phase of clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Other COVID-19 vaccine research had been carried out concurrently, including the inactivated vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and the inactive one from Beijing-based pharmaceutical company Sinovac.
As the virus keeps mutating, China has continued to advance its vaccine research over the past three years. As of October 2022, at least 46 COVID-19 vaccines were being tested in human trials domestically and over 20 in overseas clinical trials.
Among them, three inactivated monovalent vaccines for Omicron variants were being tested for sequential immunization on the Chinese mainland, in Hong Kong and in the United Arab Emirates.
Efforts to strengthen global vaccine cooperation
China’s vaccines have played a crucial role in the global response to the pandemic, offering countries more choices amid the vaccine divide across the globe.
In May 2021, the WHO listed the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. It was the first Chinese vaccine officially recognized by the WHO and the sixth vaccine approved for emergency use globally.
The WHO included the vaccine on the emergency use list for its “safety, efficacy and quality,” said the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a press briefing.
In the following month, another inactive vaccine produced by Sinovac got approval from the WHO for emergency use.
Compared with other vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer during that time, the inactive vaccine from China had an advantage: It can be stored and transported in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius. It is particularly suitable for developing countries with inadequate vaccine storage and transportation facilities to store large amounts of vaccines at low temperatures.
In May 2022, the CONVIDECIA COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese developer CanSino Biologics was given the green light by the WHO for emergency use. It was the third Chinese vaccine after Sinopharm and Sinopec certified by WHO Emergency Use Listing.
“The world desperately needs multiple COVID-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe,” said Dr Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to health products, in a news release in June 2021.
She also urged manufacturers to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) scheme, a worldwide initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for rich and poor countries alike to bring the pandemic under control.
Since China joined COVAX in October 2020, it has continuously offered vaccine aid to less developed countries. In August 2021, China pledged to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world throughout 2021 and offered $100 million to COVAX.
“We welcome this contribution from China, which will enable further access to COVID-19 vaccines for the most at risk in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Other measures include $ 2 billion in international aid from China to help developing countries respond to the impact of COVID-19 and building a cooperation mechanism for Chinese hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals.
As of May 2022, China had provided anti-epidemic materials to 153 countries and 15 international organizations, including 2.2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The country also sent medical expert groups to 34 countries and shared its experience in epidemic response with more than 180 countries and international organizations.
People-first in China’s anti-pandemic strategy
Since the onset of the pandemic, China has regarded protecting people and their lives as a top priority, no matter whether they are at home or abroad.
As of December 7, 2022, approximately 3.45 billion vaccine jabs had been administered nationwide. Over 228 million people over 60 received full vaccination, accounting for 86 percent of the total population in that age group.
Overseas Chinese nationals were also offered COVID-19 vaccines. Within three months after China rolled out the “Spring Sprout” vaccine program in March 2021, more than 1.18 million overseas Chinese in over 150 countries had been inoculated with Chinese or foreign vaccines.
The Chinese government extended the coverage of the inoculation program to foreign citizens living in China by giving Chinese vaccines to foreign nationals of eligible age and providing timely treatment to those infected with COVID-19. The country also adjusted the prevention and control measures for foreign nationals entering China.