China begins mass distribution of COVID vaccines

Science & Health

Countries including Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, and Chile are clamoring for doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine candidate made by Sinovac Biotech. Meanwhile, the maker of another of China’s leading vaccine candidates, Sinopharm, applied last month for market approval.

The Governor of the State of São Paulo, João Doria (center), accompanies the arrival of the 2nd Lot of the “CoronaVac” vaccine in Guarulhos, Brazil on December 3, 2020. Photo from São Paulo Government via REUTERS.

With the U.S. considering approving its first COVID-19 vaccine later this week, and regulators in Beijing also reviewing an application from one company for a formal vaccine rollout, the race to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 is about to shift into high gear.

At least five Chinese companies are jockeying to play a central role in the next — and hopefully the last — phase of the pandemic.

  • Sinopharm, which makes two of the vaccines that are being distributed through China’s emergency use authorization program, applied for market approval last month. However, the company has still not publicly released Phase 3 trial results.
  • Sinovac Biotech has made a vaccine it calls CoronaVac, which has also been distributed widely in China outside clinical trials, even as trials continue in countries such as Brazil.
  • CanSino Biologics and Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical also have vaccines in Phase 3 trials.
  • Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products, one of China’s largest vaccine makers — and one with a scandal-dogged past — will be “the exclusive manufacturer in mainland China for the vaccine made by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca,” the New York Times reports. It is also developing its own vaccine, though it is not as far along in testing as the four other companies.

Mass distribution of Chinese vaccines is beginning, even as governments wait for more clinical trial data and official approval of the products.

  • “Provincial governments across China,” including Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Anhui, have recently said that they have either purchased domestic vaccine supplies or are looking into doing so, the Associated Press reports.
  • Indonesia has received 1.2 million doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine, and a plan to distribute the doses is expected to be “completed within two weeks,” the Straits Times reports. A second shipment of “1.8 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive in January.”
  • Brazil has also received “more than one million doses” of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine, to be distributed pending approval, the Wall Street Journal says.
  • Turkey has “pre-ordered 50 million doses” of Chinese vaccines, per the WSJ.
  • Chile has also reached a supply deal with Sinovac Biotech, according to Reuters, and talks with the Philippines are underway.

Sinovac has raised $515 million from Sino Biopharmaceutical, one of China’s largest pharma companies, to increase its vaccine production, per Caixin.

  • The company is “now analyzing interim data from phase 3 trials in Brazil, after which it will submit the data to the Chinese drug regulator.”
  • According to Brazil’s Butantan Institute biomedical centre, Sinovac is expected to “publish efficacy results from its vaccine trials by Dec. 15,” per Reuters.