Chinese COVID-19 vaccine developers’ race for life

China has been at the front of the pack with COVID-19 vaccine research this year. CGTN reporter Wu Guoxiu has followed the country's progress in developing vaccines in a matter of months. Here's her review of vaccine development in the past year.

A race for life in 2020. China's been one of the world's front runners of COVID-19 vaccines. On April 2, it approved the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate for clinical trials.

Since July, five have been undergoing final stage human trials in countries like the UAE, Brazil, and Pakistan.

At the same time, vaccine makers have been preparing for mass production.

Sinovac, maker of one leading candidate, built a new plant in southern Beijing.

In early August, I became the first reporter to have entered its production facility, while it was still being tested.

Company head Yin Weidong was happy about the results from the first two stages of trials.

YIN WEIDONG Chairman of the Board & CEO Sinovac Biotech Ltd. "After performing injections on over 1,000 volunteers, some only showed minor fatigue or discomfort, no more than 5 percent. As for effectiveness, after two injections, almost all volunteers developed antibodies, around 97 to 98 percent."

Sinopharm's candidate, also an inactivated type, entered phase-three trials in late June. The company has production facilities in Beijing and Wuhan.

LIU JINGZHEN Chairman China National Pharmaceutical Group "The vaccine has not officially been approved and marketed as of now. But as a commodity, in the case of an emergency, foreign governments can purchase vaccines from us. There's no obstacle to such purchases. We'll supply the vaccine to whoever buys it. This is in compliance with the law."

In early September, the two vaccines developed by Sinopharm and Sinovac were displayed for the public at the China International Fair for Trade in Services.

WU GUOXIU Beijing "President Xi has said Chinese vaccines will be public goods in the future. How will they be distributed, as they're limited?"

HELEN YANG Senior Director of Global Strategy, Sinovac "We're also in a way to executing our strategies in line with what President Xi says. We're aiming to supply our vaccines in China as well as the world. Some of the collaborations we're having with different countries, we're not only doing the trials but also to secure the quantity of supply to them."

For many people, this was the first time they had seen a real COVID-19 vaccine.

But China has approved the emergency use of three vaccines in June, two from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac.

Key groups of people, those with a higher risk of infection, are being vaccinated across the country for this winter and spring.

ZHENG ZHONGWEI Director, Medical Sci & Tech Development Center National Health Commission "After stringent monitoring and observation, no serious adverse event has occurred. About 60 thousand recipients went to high-risk areas abroad for work, so far serious infections have not been reported."

Chinese vaccines are also being delivered to other countries.

One evening in mid-December, I got exclusive access to see how Sinovac delivered two million doses to Brazil.

WU GUOXIU Beijing "These vaccines can be stored at two to eight degrees Celsius, similar to the rabies vaccines. It's winter here in Beijing, so this warehouse is actually warmer than outside. In terms of transportation and storage, the hope is it won't place too much of a burden on the distribution system in place for vaccines across the world."

On December 9th, the UAE approved Sinopharm's vaccine for market use, saying tests in the country showed it was 86 percent effective.

Around Christmas, Turkish officials said Sinovac's vaccine showed over 90 percent effectiveness in tests.

Brazil's state-run Butantan Institute also announced that Sinovac's vaccine has achieved the levels of efficacy required by the World Health Organization, adding detailed numbers would come later.

The two companies are still awaiting market approval for general use in China, but they've already prepared to roll the jabs out domestically.