China wanted to make its own mRNA vax. It's not going well

China wanted to make its own mRNA vax. It's not going well
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

China is crashing back and forth between government lockdowns and the relaxation of COVID mandates as they encounter yet another wave of infections. Why is this happening in what is supposed to be one of the more advanced nations on the planet? One reason may be that large segments of the Chinese population are still either unvaccinated or their immunity bestowed by China’s original, home-grown vaccines is insufficient in the face of the Omicron variant and other mutations. As the Associated Press reports today, the country is dealing with its biggest outbreak to date, and the fault likes entirely with the Chinese Communist Party, which “put politics and national pride above public health.” And the Chinese people are beginning to notice.

China is trying to navigate its biggest coronavirus outbreak without a tool it could have adopted many months ago, the kind of vaccines that have proven to offer the best protection against the worst outcomes from COVID-19.

As early as the spring of 2020 a Chinese pharmaceutical company, Fosun Pharma, reached an agreement to distribute — and eventually manufacture — the mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. It still has not been cleared in mainland China, despite being authorized for use by separate authorities in Hong Kong and Macao.

Now health experts say that delay — a result of putting politics and national pride above public health — could lead to avoidable coronavirus deaths and deeper economic losses because whole cities would be locked down to insulate the country’s unprotected population.

While Operation Warp Speed was cooking up the new, experimental mRNA vaccines in the United States, the Chinese were working on developing a more “traditional” type of COVID vaccine using inactivated samples of the live virus. And to be fair, it worked. They quickly began delivering the Sinopharm vaccine to their own people and to countries in South America and Africa by the tens of millions of doses. And it appeared to be working nearly as well as any other vaccine against the original virus.

But even the CCP is now admitting that Sinopharm isn’t holding up against Omicron and it was far less effective against Delta. The question is why they haven’t made the switch to the newer technology more than a year and a half after it was being distributed in the west. China had an agreement between Fosun Pharma in Beijing and Pfizer to deliver the new vaccines and eventually make them in China. But that never happened.

The reason, according to one Chinese health official who spoke to the AP on background, is that the CCP wanted “to master the technology in China and not depend on foreign suppliers.” In other words, Xi Jinping didn’t want to look like his country had to ask the west for help. But their efforts to develop an mRNA vaccine from scratch have gone slowly. Abogen Biosciences has produced a vaccine that reportedly showed “promising” results in a small number of test subjects, but they are still nowhere near ready to go into mass production.

This just seems so completely typical of the CCP. Rather than risking what Xi would perceive as “losing face” by asking the west for help, he chose to leave his massive population at risk. Now they are back to their original “zero COVID” strategy, locking down massive numbers of people for weeks or months at a time. The Chinese people are far more accustomed to bending a knee to the authoritarian whims of the CCP than Americans are to our government. But surely there is a limit as to how much even the Chinese will tolerate. Before Xi thinks about invading Taiwan, perhaps he should double-check and make sure he has control of the mainland.

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Jazz Shaw 10:01 AM on June 04, 2023