China has officially signed an agreement to join the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility, a global COVID-19 vaccine project to ensure poorer countries have access to life-saving vaccines.
China is the biggest economy to back the initiative so far. Neither the United States nor Russia has signed up.
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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement posted to Twitter that China’s decision was “an important step to uphold the concept of a shared community of health for all and to honour its commitment to turn COVID-19 vaccines into a global good”.
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) is led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and aims to deliver some two billion doses of vaccine around the world by the end of next year.
COVAX will pool financial and scientific resources and bring richer countries together with 92 low- and middle-income economies such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which are eligible for financial support for the procurement of vaccines through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
COVAX aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines that can be made available to those participating in the scheme.
Earlier this month, Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, reiterated his call for a “quantum leap in support” for the global vaccine plan, saying it needs an additional $15bn in funding by the end of the year.
China is signing up to COVAX as countries in Europe, the US and beyond battle a resurgence of the virus that first emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
The US has recorded the most cases and the most deaths but has not backed COVAX, instead securing supplies through bilateral deals.
Hundreds of thousands of people in China have already been injected with experimental vaccines, with at least three companies there in the final stages of clinical trials.
The government has said it may have a coronavirus vaccine available as early as next month and Hua said developing countries would be given priority.
“The COVID-19 pandemic still poses a severe threat to the safety and health of people in all countries,” she said. “China continues to focus on ensuring that developing countries have equal access to appropriate, safe and effective vaccines.”