China’s experimental coronavirus vaccines are on the move. Global procurement data shows that three Chinese companies have inked deals to supply hundreds of millions of vials to the world in bilateral agreements with nations like Indonesia and Brazil.
The flashier mRNA vaccines of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are more adaptable and have produced enviable results, but keeping them cold enough to prevent their delicate strands of genetic material from falling apart in transit is a major challenge.
China’s vaccine giants have mostly deployed the more conservative and time-consuming approach of killing the whole coronavirus and administering it to people to prime their immune response to fight off a real-world infection.
These vaccines are easier to transport and potentially manufacture overseas in places without cutting-edge technology. But while they may be more appealing to many nations, concerns over the vaccine-makers’ transparency and a lack of detailed trial data seem to have turned some off.
Lack of data
Full results from final phase trials of vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna and the adenovirus vector vaccine produced by AstraZeneca and Oxford University have all been published in peer-reviewed journals for the world to scrutinize.
But China’s vaccine companies have only published results from early and mid-stage trials, which are not designed to examine whether they actually prevent people from getting sick from the disease. Some topline results have been revealed by officials and company chiefs, but no Chinese vaccine has yet been approved for domestic use outside of a controversial and expanding emergency program.
Researchers at the Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center in North Carolina have been tracking COVID-19 vaccine commitments made by the world’s leading vaccine companies. Their figures show that apart from the nation’s commitments to the U.N.-backed vaccine initiative COVAX, three of the four Chinese companies with vaccines in the final phases of trials have committed almost 380 million doses to countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
That is just a fraction of the 11.6 billion doses of various that have already been pledged around the world, with the majority concentrated in the U.S., EU, India and the U.K. — despite their vastly different populations — as high-income countries hedge their bets. Meanwhile, one model predicts it could take until September 2023 to make enough doses for the whole world.
Researchers at Duke warned that because China, like Russia, controls largely state-owned vaccine development and manufacturing chains, they are “notably less transparent than some other countries about advance purchases for domestic use as well as exports.”
This means the commitments made by Chinese companies to foreign countries could be higher than those publicly known, they said.
Overseas trials closely watched
Early phase trials generally check if a vaccine is safe and provokes an immune…
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