Can Africa Rely On China’s COVID-19 Vaccine After Diplomats Visit Sinopharm

diplomats at sinopharm africans on china
Credit: CGTN

China’s African Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited 50 African diplomats to visit Sinopharm, a vaccine research and manufacturing company. This visit on October 16 is the first physical group event of African diplomats organized by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation since the outbreak of COVID-19. In this article, I discuss how that visit progressed, the potential behind China’s vaccine in Africa, and whether Africa can rely on the China vaccine.

The African Delegation Tours Sinopharm

Wu Peng, the director-general at the Department of African Affairs in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said “China is ready to strengthen vaccine cooperation with African countries on the basis of fully respecting Africa’s will. We are prepared to provide vaccines to African countries as a matter of priority.”

african diplomats visit china vaccine manufacturer africans on china
Credit: FMPRC

First, during the visit, the African diplomats toured the China Biological Museum and the poliomyelitis vaccine manufacturing workshop by Sinopharm. Secondly, the delegation was also briefed on the clinical trials of Sinopharms COVID-19 vaccine.

The African diplomats who attended this tour and briefing appreciated the event. Inoussa Moustapha, Niger’s Ambassador to China and the dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in China, said “this cooperation shows the high level of China-Africa relations. China’s pledge to make vaccines a global public good and provide them to developing countries as first recipients is an important step taken to uphold the concept of a community of common health for mankind.”

Also, Ernest Ndomahina, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to China, said “this visit is so much impactful and insightful. We learned so much about how China is making this great nation move forward despite the pandemic. We are glad that China is making sure that Africa is well and safe. I believe that this cooperation can empower Africa, and can strengthen our future collaboration.”

China And The Race To A COVID-19 Vaccine

Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd. is a Chinese pharmaceutical company with headquarters in Shanghai, China. The company researches, develops, manufactures, distributes, and markets medicine and other healthcare products.

The global race to a COVID-19 vaccine continues. During this race, China has made bold promises. According to Wu Guizhen, the chief biosafety expert at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, Sinopharm’s two vaccines will be available in November or December. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Peru, and Argentina are currently testing these vaccines.

Back in October, China joined the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access, also known as COVAX. This is a collaborative effort by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO). COVAX plans to provide two billion doses of vaccine to the most vulnerable people and to healthcare workers.

Currently, Chinese vaccine manufacturers have developed four of the leading candidates that are in the final stages of testing worldwide. Sinopharm’s Beijing based research institute with the China CDC, Sinopharm’s Wuhan based research institute with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Sinovac in Beijing, and CanSino Biologics in Tianjin developed these vaccines. China’s health ministry is awaiting the results of large trials before approving them for sale.

sinopharm covid vaccine
Credit: The New Yorker
Can China Supply A Global Vaccine?

Some of the trials have become a challenge, which is still up for debate. In October, reports stated that Sinopharm was offering experimental COVID-19 vaccines to Chinese students going abroad. Later, reports suspended the program. Finally, reports confirmed the offer was not real. The source of this offer is still unknown.

China’s ability to supply the demand has yet to convince pundits. China promises to produce 600 million doses by the end of 2020. Some argue that will not provide an adequate amount of doses for export after fulfilling China’s own demand.

Can Africa Rely On China’s COVID-19 Vaccine?

There are a variety of factors countries throughout Africa are balancing with COVID-19. The number of cases across the continent continues to dwarf in comparison with the rest of the world. In other words, the state of infrastructure and healthcare might determine the value of a vaccine, instead of a mounting death toll.

Regarding China’s efforts in Africa, plans are already in place to manufacture China’s vaccine in Egypt. Similarly, a Chinese-trained Angolan scientist is leading COVID-19 labs in Angola. These are only a few examples of how continued Africa-China relations have already set the stage for collaborative vaccine distribution.

Beginning in March, Africa received assistance from China, the Chinese government, Chinese companies and the Chinese diaspora. This included PPE and medical personnel. After that, assistance has also been given by Chinese state-owned enterprises and Chinese private companies based in Africa. Reportedly, the motivation behind all of these efforts varies for Africa’s benefit, China’s benefit, and private business benefits.

Finally, it might be too early to know, but the focus on vaccine versus treatment is also an important factor for Africa to balance. Since Africa’s experience with COVID-19 is not the same as the rest of the world, the solutions to managing it should also be unique to Africa. Will a China vaccine in Africa make as much of a difference?

What do you think? Should Africa rely solely on China’s vaccine? How should Africa balance vaccine distribution and treatment methods? Let us know in the comments.

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