China, Russia Market Coronavirus Vaccines Globally

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Mexico has long looked to its most important ally – the United States – in times of crisis, and its diplomatic campaign for a coronavirus vaccine is no exception. At least three U.S. drug companies have deals with the Mexican government that could reduce the wait times for its citizens for vaccinations.

But officials in Mexico and many other developing countries are well aware that the United States is consumed by its own coronavirus crisis and led by a president who preaches “America first.”

And so they also turned to two other superpowers who are more than willing to fill the void: China and Russia.

The governments of the two countries have already marketed as yet untested vaccines around the world, seizing the likelihood of a global bottleneck to deepen overseas ties and expand their influence as the United States crumbles are withdrawn from several international agreements and bypassed the World Health Organization.

Russia’s Commerce Ministry said it has attracted interest from more than 20 countries for a total of more than one billion doses. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is making its own deals and offering incentives, including a billion dollar loan program to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean buy its vaccines.

China and Russia plan to deliver vaccines to Mexico.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wears a mask against the spread of the coronavirus.

Dressed in a mask against the spread of the coronavirus, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard answers questions during a press conference at the airport in Toluca, Mexico, on May 5.

(Marco Ugarte / AP)

“We don’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

There are 7.8 billion people in the world. Ending the pandemic with a vaccine could require the vaccination of 80% of them.

Given that many vaccines currently in development are expected to require two injections, that could mean more than 12 billion doses.

Even with the increase in manufacturing capacity, vaccine officials say the world’s inoculation could last until 2024.

The richest countries will almost certainly be the first.

After antiretroviral therapies to suppress HIV became widely available in the United States and Europe in 1997, it took nearly seven years – and millions of deaths – for them to be distributed across Africa.

As the H1N1 pandemic erupted in the spring of 2009, the United States and other wealthy countries paid to reserve almost all of the supply of potential vaccines – agreeing to release 10% in developing countries only after it became clear months later that the virus was less deadly than originally thought.

Today the planet seems just as unlikely to function as one big and happy family.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, more than 70 countries took control of medical supplies to prevent them from being shared or sold abroad. After the antiviral drug Remdesivir showed promise, the United States bought 90% of the world’s supply.

Already, rich countries, which represent only 13% of the world’s population, have pre-purchased more than half of the vaccine that big companies have pledged to produce, according to humanitarian organization Oxfam.

The United States has pre-purchased 800 million doses of various experimental vaccines in a bet that at least one candidate will prove to be safe and effective.

Operation Warp Speed ​​- the US government’s multibillion-dollar partnership with several private companies to develop, manufacture, and distribute vaccines – could potentially benefit poorer countries, but it’s unclear when.

Peter Marks, a senior Food and Drug Administration official, said in June that the US vaccine award would look like overhead oxygen masks on a depressurizing plane: Help yourself before you help others.

This leaves developing countries with two options.

The first is to wait. COVAX, a global partnership co-led by the World Health Organization, plans to pool vaccines and make them available in low-income countries for healthcare workers and those at high risk of dying from the virus.

The effort is lagging behind because the White House refused to contribute to the fund, saying in September that it would not be “coerced by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”

A staff member is testing samples of a potential vaccine at SinoPharm in Beijing, in the race to manufacture a vaccine against the coronavirus.

A staff member tests samples of a potential vaccine at a SinoPharm production plant in Beijing. In the global race to manufacture a vaccine against the coronavirus, the Chinese state-owned company boasts that it gave its employees experimental vaccines even before the government agreed to test people.

(Zhang Yuwei / AP)

Even if the effort achieves its objectives, the countries that benefit from it will still have to find more vaccines elsewhere. For example, the WHO projects that all of Africa will receive around 220 million doses, but ideally it will need more than a billion.

Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, called COVAX a “heroic effort” that “swims against the tide of history.”

The second option is vaccine diplomacy. This is where China and Russia come in.

China has been on a tear in recent years to expand its global influence, funding pipelines, maritime networks and other infrastructure projects that could eventually expand to more than 100 countries.

The pandemic – and the global need for a vaccine – presented a unique opportunity to exercise soft power.

But China had a problem: Because it succeeded in controlling its own coronavirus outbreak through strict quarantine orders and other measures, companies developing half a dozen vaccines did not have the right conditions for it. conduct clinical trials.

Many other countries unlikely to obtain vaccines by other means were happy to comply. Chinese trials are currently underway – or are expected to begin soon – in at least a dozen countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Morocco, Indonesia and Bahrain.

In exchange for 9,000 volunteers, Brazil negotiated the right to buy some 120 million doses of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, perhaps as early as December.

The deal also calls on Brazil – which has a lot of experience in manufacturing pharmaceuticals – to help produce the vaccine it will use.

Tests abroad could also help China build international confidence in its medical research facility, which has been ravaged by a series of vaccine safety scandals.

Chinese officials have announced that they are not planning widespread immunizations of their own citizens.

The most important thing for China is to be able to immunize people in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam in the hope of recruiting allies and mobilizing support for its program abroad, including claims over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Pakistan – which has been promised enough vaccine for about a fifth of the population – notably refrained from condemning China for its treatment of Pakistani Uyghurs.

Medical diplomacy in Russia dates back to the days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union exported massive amounts of cheap vaccines to developing countries.

At the start of the pandemic, the Russian government sent thousands of masks and ventilators to Italy in mailings decorated with hearts: “From Russia With Love”.

If there was any doubt that he saw vaccine development as the new international space race, they were stifled when Russia announced the name of its new vaccine: Sputnik V.

The first of three vaccines Russia hopes to bring to market, it was developed at the government’s Gamaleya Institute and approved after being tested on just 76 volunteers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his own daughter had taken the vaccine, a nod to Russian researchers in the 1950s who vaccinated their own children against smallpox.

The vaccine has also been tested in volunteer soldiers and is currently undergoing further testing in at least 30,000 people.

The United Arab Emirates – which has recruited at least 50,000 people in Russian and Chinese clinical trials – has already started issuing emergency clearances to begin vaccinations.

The United States is no stranger to vaccine diplomacy.

In the 1970s, he helped finance mass vaccination programs to eradicate smallpox in South America, Asia and Africa. Under the Obama administration, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deployed hundreds of workers around the world to try to finally eradicate polio.

“These white coats are the best ambassadors in the world,” said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt. “It sounds cheesy, but it works.”

When it comes to the coronavirus, the Trump administration appears to be breaking with this tradition.

“There is no official public statement saying that they will use American vaccines to help poor countries fight COVID,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University .

He said the silence was a gift to China and Russia: “The United States is giving them the opportunity.”

In Mexico, which has budgeted 1.7 billion dollars for the purchase of vaccines, the conclusion of the agreement is well under way.

Chinese company CanSino Biologics plans to conduct phase 3 clinical trials there and is now under contract to provide injections to 35 million people.

The Russian government has said at least 16 million Mexicans could receive Sputnik V.

In addition, British company AstraZeneca has agreed to provide the vaccine to an additional 39 million people – as Mexican authorities plan to make the country a center for the distribution of the vaccine throughout Latin America.

Mexico has also signed a pledge to COVAX to purchase vaccines for at least 25 million people.

For now, the United States – its main trading partner – remains a smaller player in Mexico’s vaccine strategy.

An agreement with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is expected to provide injections to 17 million people. US companies Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are planning trials in Mexico that would give it faster access to these vaccines if approved.

“All of this is obviously our bet that Mexico is at the forefront of access,” said Martha Delgado, the Under Secretary of State who coordinates vaccine research. “That we will not be left behind.”

Baumgaertner reported from Los Angeles and McDonnell from Mexico City.

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