China Begins Shipping COVID-19 Vaccines Around the World

By Joshua Cawthorpe, December 8, 2020

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Provincial governments have begun placing orders for domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines as 600 million doses are said to be ready for market in the coming weeks, GRT Radio reports.

China has three different vaccines in Phase 3 human trials, out of 14 vaccines that have reached this stage worldwide. However, China has been administering the experimental vaccines to high-risk workers, such as front-line medical staff and customs and border personnel, since as early as July in a move that garnered some international criticism. 

Chinese health officials stated in September that they had received approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) for their emergency use program, according to CNN.

Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm announced on November 18 that nearly a million people worldwide had been given the vaccine without a single report of serious adverse reactions. Chinese diplomats, students, employees of transnational firms and construction workers who were traveling outside of the country were given the Sinopharm vaccine. The company also claims that none of the vaccine recipients were infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated.

Human trials, each involving approximately 60,000 people, had been carried out in 10 countries around the globe, although data from these trials has not been made publicly available.

At a health tech conference in Shenzhen on November 27, renowned respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan, who received China’s top honor from President Xi Jinping, stated that the data is not the only indicator of a vaccine's quality, referring to the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. 

On December 2, the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine for public use. However, one challenging factor is that it must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius throughout storage and distribution. A major advantage of the Chinese vaccines is that they can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, which facilitates rapid distribution.

The first shipment of vaccines from China’s Sinovac arrived in Indonesia on December 6 and were reported to be in good condition. Refrigerated trucks were waiting at the airport to transport the supplies to a special vaccine storage warehouse built to accommodate 1.2 million doses, according to Xinhua.

Vaccine supplies arriving at Soekarno-Hatta Airport. Image via @People's Daily Overseas Edition/Weibo

Sichuan province has ordered an increased volume of the vaccine. Liang Zhong’an, a medical department head, said that his department received notice in late October that vaccinations were available to staff on a voluntary basis. 

The cost of each dose is RMB200 and two doses, taken 28 days apart are required, along with a RMB28 service fee both times, Liang told China Daily. This is the same price as the October vaccine trial in Zhejiang province.

Some Chinese netizens pointed out that RMB400 is more expensive than they anticipated and that they wanted to wait and see what other vaccines become available as China is a member of COVAX, the World Heallth Organization (WHO) initiative to provide safe and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in developing nations. 

One Weibo user noted sarcastically that the vaccine was actually very cheap — only two weeks of food. On the other hand, many netizens felt it was affordable and praised the rapid response from the government and scientific community.

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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