The first hiccup came recently when questions arose over the efficacy of China’s frontrunner vaccine candidate following initial clinical trials.
The results revealed that while
Sinovac Biotech’s experimental vaccine “CoronaVac” triggered an immune response, the level of antibodies produced was lower compared to people who had recovered from the disease. The “moderate results” came in stark contrast to US firms Moderna and Pfizer declaring their candidates over 90% effective in late-stage trials.
Even other leading candidates have shown more promising data. Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate was found to have an overall efficacy rate of 70% while Russia claims that its
Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective.
Moreover, Chinese drugmakers are facing criticism for not publicising clinical data of the vaccine studies and pressure is mounting on them to show proof that the candidates are indeed effective.
Besides, China is also lagging in the global race to supply vaccines with most countries already pre-booking shots from other leading candidates by AstraZeneca, Novavax, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
But what has really come as a setback to China’s vaccine diplomacy is the cold-shoulder by Asean members.
According to news agency IANS, some of the top Asean members have distanced themselves from the Chinese vaccines despite a major push by senior officials with the promise of “priority delivery”.
Reports in Hong Kong and Singapore newspapers have claimed that as a quid pro quo for the vaccine, the Asean members had been asked to support China at the World Health Organisation (WHO) as it has been facing the heat for hiding information on the highly contagious coronavirus.
Citing a source privy to Li’s meeting with Asean leaders, a reporter from China’s Xinhua news agency had posted on his Weibo account that Li had made Asean support at the WHO a prerequisite for the assistance to fight Covid-19.
Thailand and the Philippines have recently signed deals to procure millions of doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. Similarly, Malaysia has signed an agreement with US-based Pfizer to obtain 12.8 million doses for 20 per cent of its population.
Brazil, which has the third-highest number of cases in the world, is also taking a cautious approach with the Chinese vaccine. President Jair Bolsonaro, a strident China critic, has openly attacked the vaccine for lacking credibility and it remains unclear whether the federal government will include it in its national inoculation programme.
India offers hopes
Even as China faces hurdles in its attempts to grab the vaccine market, India’s “pharmadiplomacy” is offering hope to several nations around the world.
In his address at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India’s vaccine production capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting the Covid-19 crisis. The government has allowed drugmakers to export some of the vaccines after they’re approved for production.
AstraZeneca has signed a deal with Serum of Institute of India for the production of its Covid vaccine candidate, which will also be exported to other nations in Asia and Africa.
Serum has already signed a pact to provide 3 crore doses to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, during his recent visit to Nepal, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said India will meet the vaccine requirements of Nepal once it ramps up production.