China's vaccines to save lives, not to compete with other countries
With China poised to roll out its long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines, we can expect a barrage of criticism and skepticism from some Western media outlets. Most of the Western media outlets have been portraying China's efforts to develop vaccines as a "great power competition" with the United States.
In fact, they have called China's move to supply vaccines to other countries as "vaccine diplomacy"-an instrument of diplomacy intended to repair China's "damaged reputation" resulting from an alleged mishandling of the early stages of the pandemic and to gain future political and economic leverage.
Further, they question the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, arguing that quality may have been compromised in a rush to give the green light to domestic vaccine candidates under internal and external pressure.
Vaccine development not a race among nations
As Chinese leaders see it, the development of vaccines is, first and foremost, about protecting human health and saving lives globally. Vaccine developers have a huge commercial stake in being the first to cross the finish line. The first companies that successfully develop and produce vaccines－and indeed their country of registration－stand to gain enormous commercial advantages.
However, the health of people in the global village is far more important than profits. Thus, vaccine development is not a race between the US and China. Rather, it is a race against time, against a common enemy of humankind.
Early development and delivery of an effective vaccine, regardless of the country where it is developed, represents a victory not just for a particular company or country but for the human race as a whole. Chinese leaders are convinced that in the fight against COVID-19, governments and people around the world need to come together to support and help each other.
Strengthening the global fight against COVID-19
It was in keeping with this spirit that as soon as the genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus was completed in early January, China provided it to the rest of the world for free－unlike the case of HIV/AIDS in 1983, which ignited an acrimonious, protracted patent battle between a French scientist and an American scientist.
The prompt release of the data greatly helped researchers both within and outside China to develop vaccines. More important, Chinese leaders have repeatedly vowed to treat China's vaccines as global public goods to be shared with people in other parts of the world, especially the needy and disadvantaged. China is now set to follow through its commitment by sending hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines to other countries in the next couple of months.
China has also announced to donate $2 billion over two years to help the developing countries cope with the impact of the pandemic. In addition, it has joined Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an effort led by the World Health Organization to ensure that safe and effective vaccines quickly reach rich and poor countries alike.
And yet, all the goodwill of China and its contribution to the global fight against the pandemic is often lost on most of the Western media outlets, as they are largely blinded by their tendency to view China through the geopolitical lens, particularly when the subject relates to the West.
There is also a suspicion that disparaging China's vaccine development and generosity is a ploy to conceal the indifference of the West toward poor countries by diverting the world's attention from its vaccine hoarding.
For months now, many Western economies have been engaged in an intense and expensive competition to produce effective vaccines, which has largely put these sophisticated pharmaceuticals beyond the reach of poor countries. Media reports say the US, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan have placed orders for 3.1 billion doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca/Oxford, Moderna, Sanofi/GSK, Curevax, Johnson& Johnson, Valneva and Novavax.
These economies are expected to take delivery of at least 2 billion doses of vaccines before the third quarter of 2021, or 88 percent of the planned global production outside of China and Russia. As a result, more than 170 countries with a population of about 6.5 billion will be left with just about 25 million doses of vaccines to get by.
This is disturbing if the goal of the vaccine developers is only to pressure China to abandon its effort to deliver its vaccines to poor countries.
Given the dire state of the global vaccine supply in the immediate future, such an eventuality would force people in poor countries, even high risk groups, to endure at least another six months of suffering with more losses of lives and livelihoods. Western vaccine makers are not likely to have the capacity to supply poor countries on a big scale until at least the second half of 2021.
In my discussion with a group of friends on the labeling of China's efforts to share its vaccines with the rest of the world as "vaccine diplomacy", I was given an analogy between the Western media and a person standing onshore watching nonchalantly as his neighbor drowns in the sea and accusing a passerby who comes to the rescue of the neighbor of harboring ulterior motives.
While the comparison is not precisely apt, it makes a pertinent point. In stark contrast to some rich countries' decision to vaccinate their own citizens before sharing the vaccines with other, more needy countries, China has pledged to make its vaccines available to the world before its own domestic demand is met.
China's vaccines put to strict tests and trials
And as it turns out, China is not as anxious to roll out its vaccines as the Western media have suggested.
A number of Chinese vaccine candidates that are being developed by Sinopharm and Sinovac have undergone the final stage of trials on the scale of their Western peers with encouraging results. Also, no serious adverse effects have been reported in the vaccinated groups.
Moreover, the United Arab Emirates' authorities approved one vaccine developed by Sinopharm on Dec 9, ahead of China's drug regulators, indicating that the vaccine was 86 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection.
Far from treating vaccine approval as a race to victory, China is taking its time to scrutinize the trial data to confirm the vaccines' safety and efficacy. To Chinese leaders, these are the priorities for vaccine development because these two factors are critical to protecting human health and saving lives.
China was never interested in competing with Russia or the US to be the first country to grant its vaccines full approval. Instead, it has been striving to ensure the quality of its vaccines so they can help end the suffering of millions of people around the world and facilitate global economic recovery.
Much of developing world support Chinese vaccines
For this reason, much of the developing world has expressed confidence in Chinese vaccines. Countries such as Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico and the UAE have struck deals with China's vaccine makers to buy hundreds of millions of doses. Many other developing countries are likely to follow suit.
It would be quite unfortunate, however, if the Western media continue to sow mistrust and fear in Chinese-made vaccines.
The results of that could be catastrophic. Let us bear in mind that what really matters is the lives of the people no matter which country they are in.
The author is former deputy permanent representative of China's Mission to the UN Office in Geneva.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.