Chinese Vaccines for Southeast Asia

2021 is a key year for China-ASEAN cooperation in pandemic containment and economic recovery, and Chinese vaccines will play an important part

Two days ago, I announced that China would provide Cambodia with 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines,” wrote Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen in a January 17 Facebook post. “To boost confidence in the vaccine, I declare that I will be the first to be vaccinated in Cambodia. I must be at the forefront of this campaign.”

Amid the surging pandemic around the world, China has actively engaged in vaccine cooperation with ASEAN countries. COVID-19 vaccines developed by China have arrived in ASEAN countries to build a strong shield for human health and safety. An increasing number of countries have shown confidence in the safety, effectiveness, availability, and affordability of Chinese vaccines.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) receives the first shot of COVID-19 vaccine from China at the Presidential Palace on January 13, 2021. (AGUS SUPARTO)

New Highlight of Bilateral Cooperation

On the morning of January 13, Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine from China at the Presidential Palace. Officials, health workers, and people across the country witnessed the historic moment as it was livestreamed for millions of viewers.

The vaccine, jointly developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech and its Indonesian counterpart, completed its phase-III clinical trial in Bandung, Indonesia. After analyzing the results of the clinical trial and data from clinical trials in Brazil and Turkey, on January 11, Indonesia’s Agency for Drug and Food Control (BPOM) authorized emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine, the first such authorization in Indonesia.

Indonesian Deputy Minister of Health Dante Saksono Harbuwono also received the first shot of the vaccine on January 14 at Cipto Mangunkusumo National Central General Hospital in Jakarta alongside dozens of health care workers to kick off Indonesia’s official large-scale free vaccination of the whole population. Large-scale administration of the Chinese vaccine in Indonesia, home to the world’s fourth largest population, evidenced that solutions have been found for problems associated with large-scale and long-distance transport and storage of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine have arrived in Indonesia, and 122.5 million more are on the way.

“This vaccine was developed through the traditional approach of inactivation, so it must be stored at low temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Thanks to Indonesia’s solid cold chain system, the vaccine can be easily stored and transported even to the country’s remotest areas,” commented a spokesperson from Indonesia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force.”That is very important for Indonesia, a country of thousands of islands with underdeveloped infrastructure.”

Bambang Helianto, spokesman from the Indonesian Biopharmaceutical Company, noted that Indonesia has cooperated with China not only on vaccine procurement, but also on the transfer of upstream R&D technology, which will help Indonesia upgrade its own vaccine production capacity.

In mid-January, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Indonesia. During talks with his counterpart Retno Marsudi, Wang called vaccine cooperation a new highlight of bilateral relations and brotherly friendship between the two peoples. Marsudi thanked China for support and assistance during Indonesia’s anti-virus battle and expressed hope for continued cooperation with China in the production of COVID-19 vaccines and traditional medicines to upgrade the country’s health system and industrial capacity.

International Anti-Pandemic Cooperation

China has committed to making COVID-19 vaccines a global public good once they have been developed and applied in China. China joined the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) and the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Initiative. The Chinese government and enterprises have actively participated in international cooperation on the vaccine R&D through various channels. Apart from Indonesia, Chinese-made vaccines are also helping other ASEAN countries combat COVID-19. Many ASEAN leaders have endorsed Chinese vaccines.

“If their vaccines were not adequately safe and reliable, China would not risk producing so much,” said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a televised speech on January 13, expressing confidence in Chinese-made vaccines. He indicated that when the vaccines arrived in the Philippines, the military, police, medical workers, and vulnerable groups would be the first to be inoculated.

The Philippine Department of Health recently issued a statement indicating that the Philippine government was planning to procure 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac Biotech. At a press conference in Malacanang Palace on January 14, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Locke said that the vaccines produced by Sinopharm (China National Pharmaceutical Group) and Sinovac are inactivated vaccines produced with traditional technology that is reliable and safe. “I am looking forward to getting a Chinese vaccine jab in my arm,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Thailand said in a recent press release that the Thai Cabinet had approved a government budget of 1.3 billion baht (US$43 million) for procurement of 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China, which will be used to immunize health care workers on the front line and elderly groups with underlying health conditions.

In Laos, 2,000 doses of Chinese vaccines have been inoculated to the first group of high-risk personnel working on the front line including medical workers, volunteers, and customs officials, and no one had any adverse reaction. Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith indicated that mass inoculation of COVID-19 vaccines in the country would begin in mid-2021.

China-Malaysia vaccine cooperation is also underway. On January 12, Malaysian integrated pharmaceutical group Pharmaniaga Bhd signed an agreement with Sinovac Biotech to purchase 14 million doses of ready-to-fill vaccines for domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines. Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of Malaysia, attended the signing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur and said that the Malaysian government is satisfied with the results of Sinovac’s clinical trial and will sign a procurement agreement with Sinovac and Pharmaniaga in the near future.

Facing the menacing pandemic, China and ASEAN countries have pulled together and supported each other. The year 2021 is key for China-ASEAN cooperation in pandemic containment and economic recovery. As an important “weapon” in the fight against the pandemic, Chinese vaccines will play an active role in safeguarding people’s health in Southeast Asia.

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