Chinese state-owned SinoPharm says it could produce more than 1 billion vaccine doses next year

Sophia Yan
·3 min read
Samples of a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm subsidiary CNBG are displayed during a trade fair in Beijing  - AP
Samples of a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm subsidiary CNBG are displayed during a trade fair in Beijing - AP

The state-owned Chinese drugmaker SinoPharm is adding enough manufacturing capacity to make one billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine next year.

Production lines are being set up in China’s capital of Beijing, and in the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, said company chairman Liu Jingzhen.

SinoPharm is testing two vaccines abroad in Egypt, Argentina, Jordan and Peru. Both are inactivated vaccines, which use a non-infectious version of coronavirus to prompt an immune response from the body.

China appears to be pulling ahead in the global vaccine race with at least four candidates in phase three clinical trials around the world.

Watch: Inside a Chinese coronavirus vaccine factory

Coming up with an effective innoculation for the pandemic ripping across the globe could also help Beijing deflect public anger over its alleged cover-up of the coronavirus.

But it remains to be seen if the wider public will trust a Chinese-made vaccine, especially given the country’s fledgling pharmaceutical industry that has before suffered from safety and quality control scandals.

Experts have also pointed out that Chinese-made vaccines may not be robust enough to pass stringent regulatory approvals in developed countries like the US and Japan.

Indeed all phase three trials of Chinese vaccines are taking place in developing countries, including Argentina, Bahrain, Indonesia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Chinese-developed vaccines have been tested on 60,000 people around the world with “only slight adverse effects,” said Tian Baoguo, an official with China’s ministry of science and technology.

Although trials remain ongoing, hundreds of thousands of people in China deemed to be at risk, such as medical personnel and border officials, have also already been administered the experimental vaccines.

Developing nations with stronger ties to Beijing are beginning to ink deals to buy Chinese vaccines.

Venezuela announced on Tuesday plans to vaccinate its citizens with Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines, which could arrive as soon as December, president Nicolas Maduro said on state television.

The elderly will take priority but all Venezuelans will be vaccinated, Mr Maduro said.

An initial batch of Russian vaccines arrived in Venezuela – the first in Latin America – early this month as part of phase three clinical trials expected to include 2,000 volunteers.

A booth displaying a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Human Immunoglobulin for Intravenous Injection from China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) - REUTERS
A booth displaying a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Human Immunoglobulin for Intravenous Injection from China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) - REUTERS

Russia boasted in August of licensing a coronavirus vaccine after less than two months of human trials, leading many experts to worry about its safety and efficacy.

Brazil has also said it would include a vaccine made by Chinese biotech firm SinoVac in its national immunisation program, in addition to one developed by British company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Brazil is among the hardest hit countries in the world with coronavirus, with about 150,000 deaths, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, has also vowed to give a Chinese-made vaccine priority when purchasing supplies to inoculate citizens.

Until an effective vaccine is widely distributed, international travel largely remains on the wane, though Thailand on Tuesday welcomed 39 Chinese tourists, its first foreign arrivals since regular travelers were banned seven months ago.

Watch: Can you catch the coronavirus twice?