On Dec.6, Wang Junzhi, the deputy head of the Chinese Vaccine R&D Special Team of the Scientific Research Group and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said during a Coronavirus Vaccine Development Conference that “Breaking news will be announced within the coming weeks and 600 million inactivated vaccines (killed virus) will go public within this year.”
As the COVID-19 vaccine begins distribution around the world, China’s two leading producers — Sinovac Biotech and China National Biotec Group (CNBG) — are rolling out final testing. Vaccines from the two companies were approved for emergency use in July, allowing people at high risk of infection to get the medication.
Chinese vaccines have since gone abroad. On Dec. 7 (IST), Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivered a speech on TV, saying that 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been received from Sinovac Biotech and another 1.8 million doses of vaccine will be delivered in January 2021.
Meanwhile, most Western vaccine makers are facing issues due to the expensive cold chain network that needs to be in place to provide safe delivery, as the vaccines have to be maintained at a temperature colder than the average winter temperatures at the South Pole. Pfizer’s vaccine, originally developed by German firm BioNTech, must be shipped at -70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), whereas Moderna’s needs to be kept at -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).
As reported on The Conversation by Sanjay Mishra, project coordinator for the “COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium” at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Pfizer’s vaccine will degrade in five days if kept at regular refrigeration temperatures of slightly above freezing.
As opposed to mRNA vaccines, which have to be stored at subzero temperatures, China’s vaccine is made using inactivated viruses and requires no more than ordinary refrigeration. “Inactivated virus [is used] to make antibodies and T cells that will prevent infection with the virus or kill any infected cells to prevent or reduce disease severity,” explained Dr. Paul McCray, a professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology, and Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa.
Nonetheless, Chinese vaccines are facing a backlash. “It is a very carefully executed and carefully thought out strategy,” said J. Stephen Morrison, who directs the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a US-based think tank. “A strategic goal of the Chinese government is to achieve hegemonic influence in the bioeconomy within the next decade.”
But some may argue that the production of COVID-19 vaccines is neither a race, nor a “vaccine gamble” as Morrison stated. As global citizens, every country is putting in great efforts in combating the pandemic and willing to share achievements with the international community.
Nor were all responses negative. According to a recent Fortune’s report, Western vaccine makers appear to have taken the lead in the global race to produce a vaccine, but Chinese vaccine makers may help fill in the gaps they leave behind.
In a CNN interview, Anthony Stephen Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has himself argued: “Oh God bless [China]…I hope everyone’s trying to get a vaccine [quickly], as effectively, and safely…This isn’t a competition to win a game.”