The Real PayoffFrom China's Covid Vaccines
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 08, 2021
Its drugmakers hope exports of coronavirus shots will lead to sales of inoculations for other diseases

The pandemic made China the world’s top exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, mostly to nations that haven’t been able to afford or procure more effective ones from the U.S. and Europe. Now the country is using that newfound leverage to make an aggressive overseas push for its vaccines against other diseases such as Japanese encephalitis and pneumonia, competing with giants including Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co.

Studies have found the Chinese Covid shots to be less effective than some Western ones, such as the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna Inc., and there have been repeated questions about the transparency and data standards of its vaccine makers. Even so, developing nations that have had little access to other coronavirus vaccines are poised to grow more dependent on Chinese companies for shots against other ailments.

The expansion marks a dramatic ascent for China’s pharmaceutical industry and could give poor nations cheaper access to life-saving shots. It will also help President Xi Jinping’s administration wield more soft power globally. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has already said Xi may get a statue in the capital of Belgrade for supplying the country with more than 4 million doses of Covid vaccines, supporting local businesses such as the steel industry, and providing geopolitical backing.

China’s state-run Sinopharm is a partner in a sprawling factory being built near Belgrade that Serbian Premier Ana Brnabic says “will be able to make vaccines for other diseases … not only in Serbia, but also for export.” In Morocco, China’s Walvax Biotechnology Co. is selling a vaccine against childhood pneumonia. Other Chinese companies are selling inoculations—for diseases from flu to hepatitis— to places such as Indonesia and Egypt, building on the success of Covid vaccine exports. “China historically has not been a vaccine exporter, so this shift in the midst of the pandemic is one of the ways in which this pandemic has changed the world,” says Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It has enabled China to be a global player in vaccines in a way it has not before, and I suspect that will stick.”

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