Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 29 December 2020



A Chinese Covid-19 Vaccine Has Proved Effective, Its Maker Says

Sinopharm, a state-controlled company, said its candidate was shown to be 79 percent effective in interim late-stage trials, bringing a China-made vaccine a step closer to approval for mass use.

A street market in Wuhan, China, in December. A vaccine that can help protect the country’s 1.4 billion people is crucial to Beijing’s plans to revitalize the economy.
Credit...Aly Song/Reuters

A Chinese pharmaceutical company on Wednesday said late-stage drug trials showed that one of its coronavirus vaccines was effective, delivering positive results that could pave the way for the global rollout of hundreds of millions of Chinese vaccine doses in the coming months.

The company, a state-controlled firm called Sinopharm, said that a vaccine candidate made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm had proved to be 79 percent effective in interim Phase 3 trials. Sinopharm said it applied with Chinese regulators to allow the vaccine to be used broadly.

A full breakdown of results was not immediately available. If supported, the results will bolster claims that Chinese officials have made in recent days that the country’s vaccines are safe and effective. The authorities have already moved ahead with plans to vaccinate 50 million people in China by mid-February, when hundreds of millions are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday, according to a Chinese vaccine expert.

China’s drive to develop a homegrown vaccine speaks to the country’s technological and diplomatic ambitions. If Chinese vaccines stand up to global scrutiny, they would support the country’s claim as a peer and rival to the United States and other developed countries in biomedical sciences.

The Sinopharm vaccine’s results show that it is less effective than others that have been approved in other countries. Still, the results are well above the 50 percent threshold that makes a vaccine effective in the eyes of the medical establishment.

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Two other coronavirus vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, have already been shown to have an efficacy rate of about 95 percent. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received authorization in more than 40 countries. Moderna’s vaccine has been authorized in the United States, while other countries are evaluating its trial results. Russia has announced that its Sputnik V vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91 percent and has begun a mass vaccination campaign.

Beijing has leaned heavily on the promise of its vaccines to strengthen ties with developing countries deemed vital to China’s interests. Officials have toured the world pledging to provide Chinese vaccines as a “global public good,” a charm offensive that the United States may seek to counter, particularly when the campaign encroaches on its backyard.

The political stakes in the race for a vaccine are particularly high for China’s ruling Communist Party, whose authoritarian rule has been criticized for stifling information and playing down the virus when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan late last year. A successful vaccine, if quickly made available to the world, could help repair the party’s image globally and that of its leader, Xi Jinping.

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