China to strengthen global cooperation in Covid-19 vaccine trials

Updated 07 Jun 2020

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Chinese Science and Technology Minister Wang Zhigang attends the State Council Information Office (SCIO) briefing on the white paper about China's fight against the coronavirus disease in Beijing, China on June 7, 2020. — Reuters
Chinese Science and Technology Minister Wang Zhigang attends the State Council Information Office (SCIO) briefing on the white paper about China's fight against the coronavirus disease in Beijing, China on June 7, 2020. — Reuters

China will strengthen international cooperation in future Covid-19 clinical vaccine trials, building on earlier collaboration in vaccine development, the science and technology minister said on Sunday.

China is expending great efforts in the global scramble to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus epidemic that began in its central city of Wuhan, with Chinese researchers conducting five separate clinical trials on humans, or half of all such trials globally, according to the data compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

President Xi Jinping vowed last month at the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s governing body, that vaccines China’s develops will become a “global public good” once they are ready for use, and it will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.

Developing “a vaccine is still the fundamental strategy in our effort to overcome the new coronavirus”, Science and Technology Minister Wang Zhigang told a news conference in Beijing.

But vaccine development is very difficult and takes time, he said, when asked how China would initially prioritise shots by country when a vaccine is found.

“The rigour of vaccine development has been compared by some scientists to a dance involving precise steps and rehearsals,” Wang said.

China rejects coverup allegations

In a white paper unveiled by the State Council Information Office at the news conference, the government urged global cooperation, saying the international community should resist finger-pointing and politicising the virus. It did not name any country.

Meanwhile, senior Chinese officials, in a lengthy report on the nation's response to the pandemic, defended their government's actions and said that China provided information in a timely and transparent manner.

National Health Commission Chairman Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday that a recent news media report that the Chinese government didn't initially share the genome sequence for the virus seriously goes against the facts.

An Associated Press investigation had found that government labs sat on releasing the genetic map of the virus for more than a week in January, delaying its identification in a third country and the sharing of information needed to develop tests, drugs and a vaccine.

Ma did not address the specific findings in the AP report, but said there were many unknowns in the early stage of the outbreak and that it took time to gather evidence and figure out the characteristics of the new virus.

"The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything,” he said. "Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world.”

He ticked off a series of government actions from a detailed timeline in the government report, which ran to 66 pages in the English version.

The report lauded China's success in reducing the daily increase in new cases to single digits within about two months and the "decisive victory [...] in the battle to defend Hubei Province and its capital city of Wuhan" in about three months.

Wuhan, where the first cases of the new virus were detected late last year, was the hardest hit part of China in the outbreak. The city and soon after much of Hubei province were locked down for more than two months to stop the spread of the virus to the rest of the country.

United States President Donald Trump’s administration has accused China of cover-ups and lack of transparency regarding the pandemic. Beijing has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying it has been keeping the world informed from the start.