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China plays catch up: To offer coronavirus vaccines to WHO’s COVAX

To catch up with India emerging as a major coronavirus vaccine supplier, China makes an offer to COVAX (IANS)

In a bid to catch up with India over the latter's proactive stance in gifting coronavirus vaccines to its neighbours, China has stepped up its game. The country plans to provide 10 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to COVAX, the WHO alliance, which is supporting developing countries in getting the vaccines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told the media in Chinese capital Beijing that it would provide 10 million doses of the vaccine to the global COVAX initiative. Three Chinese companies, Sinovac Biotech, Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics will provide the vaccines to COVAX.

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the COVAX programme in April 2020 as a coalition with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to bring equitable distribution in vaccine supply for the low-income countries. The role of COVAX has become important with the rich nations garnering most of the vaccines for themselves, leaving the more modest nations without any means of protecting their people.

Indian New Agency PTI reports that China has offered to supply vaccines to COVAX even as it awaits emergency approval for its shots from the WHO. The communist government seems to be stepping up its efforts at vaccine diplomacy amid fears that India has stolen a lead with its supplies reaching Latin America and Africa shores, besides the immediate neighbourhood. India also has secured commercial orders from countries in the Arab world, South Africa as well as Brazil.

The urgency shown by China is testamount to the fact that it looks at India as a global rival and competition. The country is known as the pharmacy of the world and produces nearly 60 per cent of the world's vaccines. Indian drugs have been known to be at the forefront of the battle against HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa, which found Indian anti retroviral therapy (ART) drugs considerably cheaper. India hopes to repeat the same success for the Covid-19 pandemic, which spread across the world from Wuhan, China in late 2019.

The Chinese Communist Party tabloid Global Times has been releasing a litany of articles on the progress of Indian vaccines, the country's mass immunisation programme and its efforts at gifting the vaccines in its neighbourhood. Most such articles have been disparaging and dismissive of India's successful efforts regarding the development and manufacture of vaccines as also the vaccination drive that is underway.

However, in an editorial on January 27, 'China needs to lead global vaccinations,' the communist party newspaper coaxes the country to take the lead in providing vaccines to the world. The editorial rues the fact that though China has been able to contain the pandemic on its own land, the other countries have taken the lead in vaccinations.

The editorial says: "China also needs to provide large quantities of vaccines to developing countries, and the total number of vaccines exported should be the largest. This is the role China should play as a major manufacturing country, and this is what is expected of China. To accomplish these tasks at the same time, China's vaccine production must speed up as soon as possible. We don't have time to celebrate our past achievements. We need to move forward and focus on the future."

Whatever Global Times says, not all is well with the Chinese vaccines. The country reportedly arrested nearly 80 of its own people for trying to smuggle spurious vaccines to Africa. Authorities confiscated 3,000 doses that had been filled with saline water.