A Chinese pharmaceutical company said Wednesday that late-stage drug studies have shown that one of its coronavirus vaccines is effective with positive results that could pave the way for hundreds of millions of Chinese vaccine doses to be rolled out worldwide in the coming months.
The company, a state-controlled firm called Sinopharm, said a vaccine candidate from the Beijing Institute for Biological Products was 79 percent effective in Phase 3 interim studies. Sinopharm said it has filed with Chinese regulators to allow the vaccine to be widely used.
A full breakdown of the results was not immediately available. If backed up, the results will support claims Chinese officials have made over the past few days that the country’s vaccines are safe and effective. Authorities have already pushed forward plans to vaccinate 50 million people in China by mid-February, when hundreds of million people are expected to travel to the New Year holidays, according to a Chinese vaccine expert.
China’s drive to develop a home-grown vaccine speaks to the country’s technological and diplomatic ambitions. If Chinese vaccines stand up to global scrutiny, they would support the country’s claim as a peer and rival to the United States and other developed nations in the biomedical sciences.
The Sinopharm vaccine results show that it is less effective than others approved in other countries. Still, the results are well above the 50 percent threshold that makes a vaccine effective in the eyes of the medical establishment.
Two other coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech already have an effectiveness rate of around 95 percent. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has been approved in more than 40 countries. Moderna’s vaccine has been approved in the US while other countries are evaluating the trial results. Russia announced that its Sputnik V vaccine has a 91 percent effectiveness rate and has launched a mass vaccination campaign. A vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved in the UK early Wednesday.
Beijing has relied heavily on its vaccines promise to strengthen relationships with developing countries that are vital to China’s interests. Officials have traveled the world offering Chinese vaccines as a “global public good,” a magic offensive the United States may want to counter, especially if the campaign invades their backyard.
Political stakes in the vaccine race are particularly high for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, whose authoritarian rule was criticized for stifling information and downplaying the virus when it first surfaced in Wuhan city late last year. A successful vaccine, if quickly made available to the world, could help repair the party’s global image and that of its leader Xi Jinping.