BEIJING – China seeks to increase production of its COVID-19 vaccines to two billion doses this year and to four billion in 2022, as a part of its plan to become the top distributor of the drug in developing countries.
Feng Duojia, president of the China Vaccine Industry Association, told local media that these four billion doses will cover up to 40 percent of the global demand.
Meanwhile, China has already distributed doses of its vaccines to 22 developing countries and assisted another 53, a figure that will continue to increase as Beijing reaches more agreements with African nations, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Chinese firm Sinopharm has already distributed 43 million doses of its vaccine – 34 million within its borders – as the vaccination campaign currently remains aimed at inoculating groups considered to be at high risk of infection, according to the state broadcaster CCTV.
Vaccines developed by Sinopharm and other Chinese firms such as Sinovac and Cinsino are being used in Africa, Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Myanmar – and Latin America.
In Europe, they have only arrived in Serbia – an ally of Beijing – and Hungary.
China’s high production capacity and speed in distributing vaccines has helped attract Latin America, where more than a dozen countries have already received vaccines from Beijing or await their first doses.
On Thursday, 192,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive in Uruguay, while another 1.5 million will be available from March 15, the country’s president, Luis Lacalle Pou, said on Monday.
Meanwhile, 200,000 vaccines from the same firm are already available in Mexico, which will be administered across the municipality of Ecatepec.
Chile is expected to receive two shipments – each with more than two million doses – from the Sinovac vaccine this week, while the Dominican Republic is due to receive 768,000 doses.
Countries such as Brazil and Peru have already been administering Chinese vaccines to its people, while Colombia has just received a second batch of 192,000 doses of Sinovac.
Bolivia is awaiting the arrival of half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, which has also been authorized in Argentina as it expects to receive a million doses this a week.
In both cases, the vaccines are “inactivated,” meaning they carry a genetically altered version of the virus that prevents it from reproducing and developing the disease in the host, but generates an immune response in the body.
Moreover, China has also delivered 10 million doses of its vaccines to the Covax mechanism, promoted by the World Health Organization to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Twenty-seven countries, mostly developing countries, have shown willingness to import Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, and some have already received the shipments. China is providing vaccine aid to 53 developing countries, including Pakistan and Laos,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
The country’s official media was quick to pat itself on the back. The state-owned Xinhua agency, in an editorial on Tuesday, underlined that Chinese vaccines had become a reliable means to fight the pandemic, and that China was fulfilling its word to make vaccines a common public good and ensure its fair and equitable distribution.
However, the emergence of Chinese vaccines has also led to some diplomatic clashes after some European leaders criticized China’s initiative.
Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that China has launched a “vaccine diplomacy” campaign to increase its influence around the world, especially in African countries.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed out that the pandemic has become a “geopolitical moment” where some countries – in reference to Russia and China – were distributing vaccines to other countries with political objectives, which could have enormous “consequences” in the future.
China, on its part, has criticized developed countries for allegedly stockpiling large quantities of vaccines, and its foreign minister, Wang Yi, rejected the accusation that Beijing had “geopolitical objectives” in mind.