China joins WHO-backed vaccine programme COVAX rejected by Trump

By Colin Qian and Stephanie Nebehay
BEIJING / GENEVA (Reuters) - China has joined a World Health Organization (WHO)-supported global COVID-19 vaccine distribution program that gave a major boost to an initiative by US President Donald Trump.
Beijing's latest attempt to join the global fight against the coronavirus follows criticism of its handling of the pandemic, which has contributed to a growing unfavorable view of China in advanced countries, a recent poll found.
"We are taking this concrete step to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, especially in developing countries, and we hope that more efficient countries will join and support COVAX," said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, in a statement.
The statement did not detail what support Beijing will provide for the COVAX program, which aims to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.
In May, President Xi Jinping pledged $ 2 billion over the next two years to tackle the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million people.
China, where the virus was first reported late last year, is also in talks with the WHO to have its domestically manufactured vaccines assessed for international use.
Up to 171 nations have joined the program to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for rich and poor countries alike. Participants include about 76 wealthy, self-financing, but not the United States or Russia.
COVAX is jointly managed by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
It aims to discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and focus on vaccinating the people at highest risk in each country first.
However, the chances of success were slim until recently when some rich nations, including the United States, decided to sign their own supply agreements.
"Vaccine deals are well underway and we are rapidly approaching our original fundraising goal to expedite support for lower-income countries," said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, told Reuters in a statement.
"What seemed an impossible challenge just a few months ago - ensuring that every country, poor or rich, had fair and timely access to COVID-19 vaccines - is now becoming a reality."
The move also means that China "like other countries will procure vaccines for part of its own population through the facility," said a GAVI spokesman.
China has sufficient capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines and will prioritize supplies to developing countries when they are ready, the State Department added.
At least four experimental vaccines are in the final stages of clinical trials in China.
Two are being developed by the state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG) and two by Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics.
It has also vaccinated hundreds of thousands of essential workers and other risk groups, though incomplete clinical studies have raised safety concerns among experts.

(Interactive graphical tracking of the worldwide spread of coronavirus:

(Reporting by Colin Qian, Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Se Young Lee; editing by Miyoung Kim and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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