China should set aside politics and look at Covid jab imports, world’s largest vaccine maker says

Business

China needs to move past political considerations and look at importing Covid-19 jabs to end the pandemic globally, according to the chief executive of the world’s latest vaccine manufacturer.

“They need to open themselves up to healthcare and vaccines from the West and set aside any political issues or things that are holding them back,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

China has experienced a massive spike in Covid-19 cases and fatalities after abruptly ending its zero-Covid policy, which imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine on arrival into the country.

China’s full Covid vaccination rate is nearly 87%, according to World Health Organization figures, which show 54% of the population has also been inoculated with a booster jab.

The main Covid vaccines approved for use in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm. These jabs are less effective against the Omicron variant than are other mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and BioNTech’s, several studies have found.

Poonawalla said China’s pandemic reaction of 2020 — which included building hospitals and infrastructure and taking precautions — showed that Beijing could respond rapidly.

He stressed China’s decision not to import vaccines from the U.S., India and elsewhere, which have been “very effective.”

“I think they may have to really seriously look at doing that now, as a booster at least, and take vaccines which have proven, real-world data and efficacy,” he told CNBC. “Otherwise the alternative is that a lot of people in China are going to continue to get infected and we just hope — we wish them the best of luck in trying to manage that crisis and come out of it as soon as possible.”

He added that this also represents a global issue, given the number of people who want to travel to China for business or leisure, as well as the number of Chinese nationals who would be travelling overseas.

“We really need to end the pandemic and infection in every country, because we all need to be safe,” Poonawalla said.

“They’re [China] still making up their minds on which way they want to go and I hope it all ends quickly.”

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India produces more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses annually for various diseases. Poonawalla said that the company would be interested to provide vaccines to China, but that discussions with Beijing officials had been unsuccessful so far.

CNBC has contacted a Chinese government representative for comment.

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