China’s leaders, desperate to protect their people and deflect growing international criticism of how it has handled the coronavirus, have slashed red tape and offered resources to drug companies in a bid to empower the country’s vaccine industry.
Beijing wants to come out top in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine — and by some measures it is doing so. Four Chinese companies have begun testing their vaccine candidates on humans, more than the United States and Britain combined.
The need for a coronavirus vaccine is urgent. More than 247,000 people have died globally, by official figures as of Monday, and the true count is probably much higher. The coronavirus remains difficult to stamp out — and China, which officially appears to have largely tamed the spread, has continued to have sporadic outbreaks.
China also wants to deflect accusations that its silencing of early warnings contributed to the pandemic. And developing a vaccine for the world would burnish its standing as a global scientific and medical power.
The situation has given a boost to the country’s vaccine industry, which has long experienced quality problems and scandals. Two years ago, Chinese parents erupted in fury after they discovered ineffective vaccines had been given mostly to babies.
But finding a vaccine isn’t the entire goal. The companies also want to win over the trust of a Chinese public that might be more inclined to choose a foreign-made vaccine.
“The Chinese now do not have confidence in the vaccines produced in China,” said Ray Yip, a former head of the Gates Foundation in China. “That’s probably going to be the biggest headache.”