China has joined the global initiative for COVID-19 vaccine distribution co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), becoming the largest economy to date to pledge support to help procure and equally distribute the shots.
The GAVI Vaccines Alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparation Innovations (CEPI) lead the COVAX initiative. It is intended to prevent national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to concentrate on vaccinating the most high-risk individuals in each nation first.
By the end of 2021, the COVAX program seeks to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses.
The latest move from the country where the novel coronavirus was first identified, comes as it holds separate discussions with the WHO to evaluate its locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccines for international use.
It also comes in the midst of global criticism regarding China’s handling of the pandemic, which in a recent survey of advanced countries contributed to unfavorable views against China to increase drastically.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement did not include information on the amount of funding Beijing would provide for the initiative, known as COVAX, but President Xi Jinping had earlier allocated $2 billion over the next two years to help deal with the pandemic that has taken more than 1 million lives to date.
“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in the statement.
China joins some 168 countries, including 76 rich, self-financing nations, that have already declared their participation in COVAX. But neither the US nor Russia has joined the initiative.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that China has sufficient COVID-19 vaccine production capabilities and will give priority to supplying to developing countries when vaccines are ready.
China has at least four experimental vaccines which are in the final stage of clinical trials. Two of them are developed by the state-supported China National Biotech Group (CNBG) and the other two by Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics, respectively.
Hundreds of thousands of essential workers and other individuals considered to be at high risk have already been vaccinated in China, even though clinical trials have not been entirely completed, creating safety concerns among experts.