China is encouraging the production of more of its vaccines in overseas countries, especially developing ones, to help ensure supplies and speed the global economic recovery, according to officials and analysts.
To date, China has provided vaccine assistance to more than 80 developing countries and exported COVID-19 doses to over 40 nations, said Mao Junfeng, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the country's top industry regulator.
The efforts came despite limited production capacity in China and huge domestic demand for vaccines.
"Chinese vaccine companies have been working 24 hours a day at full throttle to speed up production," Mao said. "Compared with the beginning of this year, their vaccine production capacities have increased significantly. That was the period with the highest output and the fastest growth rate in China's vaccine production history."
China has already provided more than 350 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines overseas, and the nation is trying its best to assist the global fight against the pandemic, Mao said. "To enhance the global vaccine supply, three Chinese companies have cooperated with eight countries to manufacture vaccines locally. And they are also discussing joint production plans with 10 additional countries," Mao said.
The ministry will support qualified Chinese pharmaceutical companies in strengthening international cooperation in vaccine production and expanding the accessibility and affordability of vaccines, he said.
Li Xingqian, director-general of the Foreign Trade Department at the Ministry of Commerce, said China has issued conditional market approval for four COVID-19 vaccines. Products manufactured by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, also known as Sinopharm, and Sinovac Biotech have already been included in the World Health Organization's list of doses for emergency use.
Li said China is encouraging Chinese vaccine manufacturers with approved vaccines to actively expand their exports. "In order to ensure the quality and safety of vaccine products, the government supports Sinopharm, Sinovac and Tianjin-based CanSino Biologics Inc to export independently," said Li, adding that China welcomes countries and international organizations in great need of vaccines to directly negotiate with the companies.
Qian Chunying, an official at the Commerce Ministry's Department of Outward Investment and Economic Cooperation, said that apart from exporting vaccines to countries such as Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Cambodia and the Philippines, China has organized and implemented vaccine aid programs for 88 countries and four international organizations.
Pearson Liu, a spokesman for Sinovac, said, "To rein in the global pandemic, the biggest challenge is to ensure sufficient supplies of vaccines to all countries." The company had supplied 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally, including in China, as of May 31, Liu said.
Sinovac has cooperated with countries such as Egypt to manufacture its widely sought CoronaVac vaccine locally. It also plans to launch similar operations in more countries to enhance the global supply of vaccines, Liu said.
Feng Duojia, chairman of the China Association for Vaccines, said production of the vaccines overseas could ensure the quantity and efficiency of the supply while reducing costs. It will also boost local vaccine industries and improve the countries' public health systems, Feng said.
Zhou Mi, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing, said countries without adequate access to COVID-19 vaccines are often developing nations that have become even more vulnerable due to the pandemic. While a few countries have banned vaccine exports, efforts by Chinese vaccine makers to improve global distribution are highly significant to pandemic control and economic recovery, he added.
United Nations Chief Economist Elliott Harris said earlier that timely and universal access to COVID-19 vaccinations will make the difference between promptly ending the pandemic and placing the world economy on a resilient recovery trajectory, or losing more years of growth, development and opportunities.