- China has grappled with a surge in COVID-19 cases since it abandoned its zero-COVID policy in December.
- It has not yet approved any mRNA vaccines. Officials say domestically developed vaccines are effective.
- But SK Bioscience says China is unlikely to source foreign COVID-19 vaccines due to “national pride.”
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It’s no secret that China has been grappling with a spate of new COVID-19 infections since it reversed its strict zero-COVID stance.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the country is likely to source much-needed COVID vaccines from outside parties — the CEO of South Korea’s leading vaccine maker believes “national pride” will deter China from sourcing foreign vaccines.
Jaeyong Ahn, the CEO of South Korean company SK Bioscience, spoke to the Financial Times about the pharmaceutical giant’s plans for global expansion when he said it was “unrealistic” for the company to ship vaccines it is developing to China in the near future Future.
SK Bioscience has developed its own COVID-19 vaccine that is now being used in South Korea. The vaccine is now seeking approval from the World Health Organization and the European Union.
And although China is now at the “heart of the pandemic” and in need of vaccines quickly, “dramatic talks” must be held before the company can supply the country. That’s because it’s about China’s “national pride,” Anh said, according to the FT.
A spokesman for SK Bioscience told Insider the company is not currently in talks with the Chinese government about shipping vaccines to the country. “We are carefully monitoring the pandemic situation in China at this time,” the spokesman said.
China is rushing to develop its own mRNA vaccine
China, facing a spate of new infections and suspected deaths, is stepping up immunizations, particularly among the elderly to get vaccinated. However, Chinese authorities have not yet approved home-grown mRNA vaccines and have rejected offers of such vaccines from the United States, Bloomberg reported on Saturday, citing US officials.
“China’s overall vaccine and medical supplies are adequate and the COVID situation is under control,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mao Ning said at a scheduled news conference on Friday.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, told reporters at a briefing on Friday that China manufactures more than enough vaccines for its domestic market and that they are as effective as mRNA vaccines in preventing serious diseases, according to an ad by the Embassy briefing to insiders in response to a request for comment on the current outbreak in China.
Liu cited a University of Hong Kong study that showed three doses of Sinova Biotech’s CoronaVac was 97% effective against serious illness or death from COVID-19 in people aged 60 and older.
“China has administered 3.4 billion doses of COVID vaccines to its population, covering over 90% of its population,” Liu said. “The Chinese people have survived the most dangerous period, and this fully demonstrates the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.”
Despite this, Chinese drugmakers are racing to produce mRNA vaccines for COVID-19. On Thursday, Chinese company CanSino Biologics reported “positive” interim results from clinical trials of an mRNA booster vaccine, the company said in an exchange application last Thursday.
After three years of strict COVID-19 policies, Beijing abruptly reversed its zero-COVID policy in early December, sparking a spate of infections and deaths reportedly overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes.
The extent of the outbreak in China is not clear, as Beijing has stopped releasing COVID case numbers since December 25. Beijing has officially reported about 30 coronavirus deaths since the country flipped its zero-COVID stance last month.
But Airfinity, a British health data company, estimated on Dec. 29 that about 9,000 people die from COVID in China every day.