In this Dec 6, 2020 file photo released by the Indonesian presidential palace, an experimental coronavirus vaccine made by Chinese company Sinovac waits to be loaded onto an Indonesian plane at Beijing International Airport, in Beijing, China. (PHOTO / INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE VIA AP)
Norman Laquian, a Filipino nurse in Abu Dhabi, is among the hundreds of frontliners in the capital of the UAE who have received two jabs of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine which many, like him, are counting on for a return to normalcy.
"For me, getting the vaccine is a way of protecting yourself and your family," Laquian told China Daily.
Laquian contracted COVID-19, along with his wife, Hershey, in October. She is also scheduled to receive her jab, produced by Chinese company China National Pharmaceutical Group or Sinopharm.
The United Arab Emirates became the first country to officially approve the use of the vaccine developed by Sinopharm on Dec 9. Other countries around the world are expected to follow as Chinese vaccines complete their trials.
In developing countries, the Chinese vaccines do not just symbolize accessibility. They are also seen as logistics-friendly as Pfizer and Moderna treatments require ultra-cold storage, which can reportedly cost up to US$30,000
Earlier, at a press conference on Nov 18, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian had said five Chinese COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in Phase III clinical trials in several countries, including the UAE, Brazil, Pakistan and Peru.
The interest demonstrates how far, wide, and seamlessly necessary vaccines, like those made by China, have travelled against vexatious border restrictions as the world deepens its quest to find a safe and effective jab against an unseen enemy.
To date, more than 76.3 million people have been infected globally, claiming close to 2 million lives.
During his speech at the G20 Riyadh Summit in November, President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s promise to make its COVID-19 vaccines a “global public good” and vowed to step up cooperation with other countries on research and development, production, and the distribution of vaccines.
He also pledged to make the vaccines affordable for all.
China has joined the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program, an international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. As many as 171 countries have joined the program. But the United States and Russia, both also rolling out their own vaccines, are not a part of it.
COVAX is also led by the GAVI vaccines alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It discourages national governments from snapping up the vaccines and prioritizes high-risk people in every country.
RPM-VPS Group Medical Director Dr Michael Felfernig, who is also based in Abu Dhabi, warned that as a growing number of countries begin receiving vaccines from major candidates, it must not lead to the point that “people start neglecting precautionary measures”.
Felfernig, who was inoculated in September, has been administering the Chinese jabs to his staff through his group’s vaccination program. He has, so far, not heard of any adverse event.
"Both, China and the UAE have proven during this crisis that fast and resolute actions are the only ways to contain a pandemic outbreak. Scientific collaborations are necessary to gain quick representative valid data, which are informative about the efficiency and tolerance of different populations," said Felfernig.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bahrain, which has a population of about 1.5 million, also joined the list of countries giving the Chinese vaccine a nod. The country has also approved vaccines from US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Turkey has signed a deal to buy 50 million doses of Sinovac Biotech from China. The phase-3 trials of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine started on Sept 15 on health workers and volunteers at higher risk of infection at 25 centers across 12 provinces.
In Egypt, Minister of Health Hala Zayad hailed the arrival of the first batch of Sinopharm vaccines as a “historic day” on Dec 10 with priority distribution covering medical staff in isolation hospitals, people with chronic diseases like cancer and kidney failure, and the elderly.
Morocco, which is seeing a resurgence in cases, seeks to vaccinate 25 million of its adult population. It has ordered 10 million doses of Sinopharm and plans to produce vaccines of its own.
Other Latin American countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Honduras have also expressed interest in buying China’s CoronaVac －one of the WHO's declared vaccine candidates against the COVID-19 – from Brazilian bio medical center Butantan Institute.
In developing countries, the Chinese vaccines do not just symbolize accessibility. They are also seen as logistics-friendly as Pfizer and Moderna treatments require ultra-cold storage, which can reportedly cost up to US$30,000.
The five Chinese vaccines, meanwhile, can be preserved for 36 months at temperatures of 2 C to 8 C.
In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, which has the total highest number of COVID-19 cases in the region at over 600,000, its pharmaceutical firm Bio Farma and China's Sinovac Biotech are conducting the third phase of clinical trials of CoronaVac.
The Philippines, with more than 400,000 cases, aims to secure 25 million doses of Sinovac by next year.
Philippine-based analyst and Anvil Business Club Chairman Wilson Lee Flores, lauded China's commitment to share its vaccines and strides in modern technology.
He also said he would help his staff get immunization once the vaccines jabs are made available.
“China's commitment to share the vaccine to the world and most especially to developing countries is benevolent, progressive and noble,” said Flores.
NSF International Health Sciences Global Vice-President Martin Lush said China and Asia Pacific countries have “certainly led the way and recovered faster and better than those in the West – most notably the EU and the Americas”.
“Western Governments have a lot to learn before the next pandemic hits,” said Lush.
On Dec 2, the Interpol issued a global alert to its 194-member law enforcements across the world against organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both online and offline.
Lush said the adverse reactions from fake and unsafe vaccines will increase vaccine hesitancy and “severel damage future, non COVID-related vaccination programs in the future.
“As we move to mass vaccination pharmacovigilance (looking for adverse reactions) will be key. This must be transparent and globally coordinated with rapid sharing of information and findings. Anything less and we all lose out. The more China can contribute the better.”
“We must remember the risk of future of pandemics is real – so let us use COVID to build and reinforce trust, not knock it down.”
HONG KONG NEWS