China should put aside politics and look at importing Covid jab, says world’s largest vaccine maker

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China must leave political considerations behind and look to importing Covid-19 jabs to end the pandemic globally, said the CEO of the world’s newest vaccine maker.

“They need to open up to healthcare and vaccines from the West and put aside any political issues or things that hold them back,” Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla told TBEN’s Joumanna Bercetche at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

China has experienced a massive spike in Covid-19 cases and fatalities after abruptly ending its zero-Covid policy, which imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine upon arrival in the country.

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According to figures from the World Health Organization, China’s full vaccination rate against Covid is close to 87%, showing that 54% of the population has also been vaccinated with a booster shot.

The main Covid vaccines approved for use in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm. These jabs are less effective against the Omicron variant than other mRNA vaccines, such as those from Pfizer and BioNTech, according to several studies.

Poonawalla said China’s 2020 pandemic response — which included building hospitals and infrastructure and taking precautions — showed Beijing could respond quickly.

He highlighted China’s decision not to import vaccines from the US, India and elsewhere, which have been “very effective”.

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“I think they need to look at that seriously now, at least as a booster, and take vaccines that have proven, real-world data and efficacy,” he told TBEN. “Otherwise, the alternative is that many people in China continue to get infected and we can only hope – we wish them the best of luck in trying to manage that crisis and get out of it as quickly as possible.”

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He added that this is also a global problem, given the number of people who would like to travel to China for business or leisure, as well as the number of Chinese nationals who would travel abroad.

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“We really need to end the pandemic and infection in every country because we all need to be safe,” said Poonawalla.

“They are [China] still figuring out which way to go and I hope it’s all over soon.”

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India produces more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses annually for various diseases. Poonawalla said the company would be interested in supplying vaccines to China, but talks with officials in Beijing had so far failed.

TBEN has reached out to a Chinese government representative for comment.

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