Why China’s COVID-19 Vaccine Is More Suited For Africa

Vaccine packages
Credit: CGTN

As the global race for a Covid-19 vaccine ‘reaches the peak’ with some potential ones already announced, Chinese-developed inactivated vaccines are believed by some Chinese experts to be more suited for Africa due to their competitive costs and easier logistics. 

Experts said that the appeal of the Chinese vaccines for developing countries is obvious, considering the challenges facing the recipient countries in importing Western mRNA vaccines, such as tropical heat, distance, and the scarcity of ultra-cold freezers required by US producers, Global Times reported.  

Chen Yong, manager of the Lengwang Technology Co., which provides cold-chain solutions for traditional medical product logistics, told the Global Times that Chinese inactivated vaccines are favored for mass inoculation in Africa, as China-developed inactivated vaccines can be delivered by off-grid refrigerators, which do not require advanced electricity. 

Chen is reported by Global Times to have added that vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna rely on mRNA technology, which needs to be stored at around minus 70 degrees Celsius and minus 20 degrees, respectively. Such a requirement presents a challenge for African and Latin American countries, where poor electricity infrastructure cannot support the ultra-cold freezers during transport, Chen said. Speaking about pricing, Chen revealed that a high-quality ultra-cold freezer can cost as high as 100,000 yuan ($15,215), while China’s commonly used off-grid refrigerator may cost thousands of yuan, depending on size and storage time. 

Xu Xin, a director of the Beijing Biological Products Institute of Sinopharm, told the Global Times in an interview that one of China’s main producers, Sinopharm, has received orders from more than 100 countries so far, many of which are from Africa, and the company is still discussing future cooperation. 

China’s Covid-19 Promise To Africa

Beijing has continuously promised to make Africa a priority access in the eventual development of an effective Covid-19 Vaccine. In June, President Xi chaired the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19 and pledged that “once the development and deployment of a Covid-19 vaccine are completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit.”

China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, reaffirmed this commitment when he announced in November that “when the development of the vaccines is completed and they are available for use, China will actively consider providing them to African countries in need to help secure an early victory against the virus.”

Here Lies China’s Opportunity

Eric Olander of the China-Africa project has provided some interesting scenarios should Beijing succeed in supplying African countries with its developed vaccine. According to Eric, “if the Chinese play their cards right and deliver even 80% on their promise to make a vaccine available to African countries at an affordable rate, and if that helps to tame the pandemic, it’ll be a geopolitical win of staggering proportions.”

What’s more, in Africa it’s not even really a health issue, given the comparatively low infection rates (so far at least). Rather, a vaccine is a pathway to getting the economy going again. If the Chinese vaccine is seen to be doing that, Beijing will be in the good graces of pretty much every president and prime minister across the continent for the foreseeable future. Guaranteed.

Best of all for the Chinese, they’re not going to face a whole lot of competition from either the U.S. or Europe on this, given that neither has made vaccine distribution to poor countries a political priority.

Should “competitive costs and easier logistics” be the basis for African countries to prefer a Chinese-developed Covid-19 vaccine?

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