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China delays Pfizer vaccine approval to bolster confidence in Chinese vaccines

Beijing also working on developing its own mRNA COVID vaccine

BNT/Pfizer COVID vaccine. (CNA photo)

BNT/Pfizer COVID vaccine. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Chinese government has yet to approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech SE (BNT) and Pfizer Inc. despite previous reports hinting that the foreign mRNA vaccine would be cleared in July.

According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Chinese health officials are concerned that if the Pfizer vaccine is approved, it will erode confidence in China’s domestic vaccines produced by Sinopharm and Sinovac. While Chinese vaccines have been shown to have efficacy (Sinopharm 79% and Sinovac 51%), clinical trials earlier in the pandemic showed the Pfizer vaccine to be 95% effective against symptomatic disease.

The delta variant, however, cuts Pfizer efficacy down to 64%, according to an Israeli study. Chinese vaccines' efficacy against the strain is lacking in data.

The report pointed out that the delay will also give Chinese companies more time to finish their own mRNA vaccines. China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences is teaming up with two private Chinese drug companies to develop an mRNA vaccine.

The Chinese military, Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co, and Yunnan Walvax Biotechnology Co are carrying out late-stage clinical trials in China and Mexico for its vaccine candidate, sources told The WSJ. They have also been lobbying the Chinese government to speed up approval.

China’s hesitancy to approve the Pfizer vaccine is also related to its strategy for controlling the coronavirus, according to The WSJ. General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) has ordered officials to have 80% of the population, or around 1.1 billion, fully vaccinated by the end of October.

According to Chinese data, as of Aug. 27, around 889 million people (over 63% of the population) had been fully vaccinated with local vaccines. Chinese officials are worried that approving the Pfizer vaccine too soon may damper enthusiasm for domestic vaccines, making it more difficult to reach vaccination targets.

Updated : 2021-09-27 19:27 GMT+08:00