China on Friday welcomed India supplying more COVID-19 vaccines to a number of countries, playing down reports that New Delhi has beaten Beijing in its vaccine diplomacy around the world. Responding to a question on a report that India has beaten China in its own game of vaccine diplomacy, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin during a media briefing said, We welcome that and hope to see more countries taking actions to provide vaccines to the world, especially developing countries, to help with the global response." China has been overcoming domestic difficulties to provide vaccines to other countries in concrete measure," he said, flagging China's own vaccine requirement to inoculate its 1.4 billion population.
He reiterated that China has been providing vaccines to 53 countries and exporting vaccines to 27 countries, amid reports that many of those countries are yet to receive Chinese vaccines or the promised quantities. For its part, China has promised 10 million vaccines to the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative COVAX, but the first supplies of COVAX vaccines went from the Serum Institute of India to Ghana.
India on Wednesday dispatched the first batch of six lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to Ghana under the COVAX facility, an international cooperative programme formed to make sure low- and middle-income countries have fair access to COVID-19 vaccines. Besides neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives where China competed with India in expanding its influence, New Delhi has delivered vaccines to numerous countries, a substantial amount of doses freely well ahead of Beijing's offers to supply the jabs.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment for supporting vaccine equity and sharing COVID-19 vaccines with over 60 countries across the world, hoping that other nations will follow his example. India, the largest drug producer in the world, is currently manufacturing two COVID-19 vaccines- Covishield and Covaxin. While Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India in Pune, Covaxin is being produced by Bharat Biotech.
India is expected to step up its vaccine diplomacy in a big way once the Covaxin of the Bharat Biotech gets the WHO nod in the coming weeks. Commenting on China's vaccine diplomacy, Huang Yanzhong, a global health expert at US think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, said China's success in largely controlling the COVID-19 outbreak within its borders had reduced its need for vaccinations until recently.
(China was) not initially paying too much attention to this, which was partly due to the limited vaccine production capacity in the country and the perceived low risk of infection. In a way it was a false sense of security, Huang told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. On the other hand, China could use (its vaccines) to become the global leader in ensuring equitable access to vaccines, bridging the gap between the developed and developing world. Certainly, this would help improve China's image and project soft power in those countries, he said.
A WHO regulatory evaluation of China's vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac is expected to be completed by March at the earliest, according to the UN body. The lower efficacy rate of Chinese-made vaccines, 50.4 per cent for Sinovac and 79 per cent for Sinopharm, compared to more than 90 per cent for Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines could also slow China's reaching of herd immunity, according to public health experts, the Post report said.
According to Huang, if China falls behind Western countries in achieving herd immunity, it would lead to an unwelcome scenario for Beijing, with life returning to normal and international travel resuming between some countries. China may still need to close its borders, that certainly would not improve China's international image, Huang said. This would also mean China could no longer claim a superior disease control model, Huang added.