China’s bet on homegrown mRNA vaccines holds back nation
As early because the spring of 2020 a Chinese pharmaceutical company, Fosun Pharma, reached an settlement to distribute — and finally manufacture — the mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. It nonetheless has not been cleared in mainland China, regardless of being licensed to be used by separate authorities in Hong Kong and Macao.
Now well being consultants say that delay — a results of placing politics and nationwide pleasure above public well being — may result in avoidable coronavirus deaths and deeper financial losses as a result of entire cities could be locked all the way down to insulate the nation’s unprotected inhabitants.
“The biggest issue is about the delay of the reopening,” mentioned Xi Chen, a well being economist at Yale University’s School of Public Health. “The consequences will be huge, the supply chain disruption, the disruption to all kinds of service sectors.”
Studies have persistently proven that vaccination with mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna supply the most effective safety towards hospitalization and dying from COVID-19. Chinese vaccines made with older technology proved pretty efficient towards the unique pressure of the virus, however a lot much less so towards newer variants.
As this proof grew to become clearer, even nations that originally used Chinese vaccines and another much less efficient Western-made vaccines have turned to mRNA vaccines for booster photographs and new vaccinations.
Not China. Regulators haven’t publicly mentioned why they haven’t acted — the mRNA vaccines are licensed in a lot of the world and have confirmed secure and efficient in tons of of hundreds of thousands of individuals. But a Chinese well being official and one other particular person instantly concerned within the negotiations informed The Associated Press that authorities have held back as a result of they wish to grasp the technology in China and never rely on overseas suppliers. Both spoke on situation of anonymity, given the delicate nature of the difficulty.
For greater than a year, the method appeared defensible. The nation was capable of preserve the virus at bay higher than another giant nation with its strict “zero COVID” approach that isolates infected people and locks down communities when infections pop up.
But now, the highly transmissible omicron variant is testing that strategy, requiring ever wider and longer lockdowns that are taking a greater economic and human toll. While other countries are able to operate close to normal because their people are protected by vaccination or previous infection, China is left with only its lockdown strategy to avoid huge numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
China may be changing its mind. The Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper reported last month that Fosun Pharma is still working with health authorities on its approval and Shanghai authorities recently issued new policies that could allow the import of COVID-19 vaccines. Fosun, based in Shanghai, did not respond to questions about the announcement.
China’s National Health Commission directed questions to the country’s drug regulator, the National Medical Products Administration. That agency did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
In the meantime, hopes for a Chinese-developed mRNA vaccine center on Abogen Biosciences, a startup founded in 2019 by Bo Ying, an American-trained scientist who once worked for Moderna.
The company has partnered with more established companies in the country such as Walvax, a private company founded in 2001, and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, the military’s medical research facility. Abogen has raised more than $1.7 billion since 2020.
The company’s vaccine candidate succeeded in eliciting an immune response in a small, preliminary test in humans designed to evaluate safety, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Microbe.
The results were “promising,” said Dr. Vineeta Bal, who studies immune systems at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune, India, although she said that a direct comparison of the immune response the shot triggered with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would have helped scientists better evaluate its performance.
But large studies that are needed to show whether the shot works to prevent infections or symptoms have not been completed. Abogen did not respond to requests for an interview.
Even if the studies can be completed and the vaccine proves effective, manufacturing the millions of doses required will be a challenge, experts say. Abogen built a manufacturing facility in December 2020 with a projected capacity of up to 120 million doses a year.
Manufacturing that vaccine and ensuring quality at scale will be a difficult hurdle to clear because mRNA is still a new technology, said Scott Wheelwright, chief operating officer at BioInno Bioscience, a Chinese biopharmaceutical contract manufacturer who has held conversations with Abogen.
In the meantime, Chen, the Yale health policy expert, said the Chinese government should better protect its elderly population by both approving the Pfizer vaccine and encouraging booster shots.
Using a Chinese phrase that means “giving up completely,” Chen said the change from “zero COVID” does not have to be all or nothing. “It doesn’t need to be tang ping or sticking to zero COVID,” Chen mentioned. “I don’t think there are only two solutions, and we can stick to a middle ground.”
Ghosal reported from New Delhi. Associated Press journalist Dake Kang in Beijing contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives assist from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely chargeable for all content material.