The global push to develop a Covid-19 vaccine is gathering pace, but much to the likely frustration of President Trump, caution exercised by American regulators and drug makers has put China out in front for now.
This month, Moderna, a leading coronavirus vaccine maker, said it will not be ready to apply for emergency use authorization until at least November 25. Meanwhile, the US-based trial sites of another frontrunner of the Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca, have placed testing on hold after a participant in Britain developed a serious illness last month, further undermining the US President’s hopes that a vaccine would be ready in time for Election Day on November 3.
The stringent US safety protocols have shifted the so-called vaccine race in China’s favor, where — for better or worse — political ambition holds a much larger sway overstate, individual and commercial actions, potentially bending rules or norms as needed.
China’s leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly urged the country’s scientists to accelerate the development and research of coronavirus vaccines. Drugmakers in China have also been told to treat their work as an “important political task” — and the companies are doing everything they can to follow that directive.
And while the successful development of a Covid-19 vaccine would not preclude other countries from continuing to pursue their own research, China has placed special emphasis on being first.
As of October, four of the 10 Covid-19 vaccine candidates that have entered Phase 3 clinical trials worldwide were developed by Chinese companies. The Phase 3 clinical trial is the last and most important step of testing before regulatory approval is sought.
Two of the vaccines are from China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). Another one, CoronaVac, was developed by drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, with the remaining one jointly developed by the Chinese military-linked Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and vaccine company CanSino Biologics.