China joins global coronavirus vaccine distribution initiative that Trump shunned

Foreign Affairs

Filling yet another void in global leadership left by President Trump, China said that it had joined COVAX, the World Health Organization–backed program to fund and coordinate the equitable global distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

trump vaccine covax
Illustration by Derek Zheng

Today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced (English, Chinese) that China has officially joined COVAX, the World Health Organization–backed program to fund and coordinate the equitable global distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

What is COVAX?

Formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, COVAX is an international initiative that has the “initial aim…to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021, which should be enough to protect high risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline healthcare workers,” according to the Gavi vaccine alliance. Gavi, which co-leads COVAX alongside WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, says that 170 countries have signed up, including 92 low- and middle-income countries.

China’s participation is a significant boost for the initiative, which was launched in April.

  • “China will purchase vaccines based on 1% of the total population, that is, 15 million people, through COVAX,” and the initial purchase was modest because “we must take into account that the supply of the first batch of vaccines will be in short supply,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry clarified on China’s involvement.
  • “China’s purchase brings in more of the upfront financing that Covax needs to strike deals with vaccine makers, which have seen most of their future supply preordered by wealthy governments,” the Wall Street Journal writes.
  • However, it remains “unclear how much money China will contribute to the initiative, which remains US$200 million short of its US$2 billion fundraising goal this year,” the South China Morning Post writes.

Even one cent is more than the U.S. is giving. Despite being the world’s wealthiest country, the U.S. will not join COVAX because the Trump administration says it will “not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.” In May, President Trump had sent hate mail to WHO and declared he was pulling the U.S. out of the organization.

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