China’s approval of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech appears likely within the next few months and, thanks to a deal made between the biotech and China’s Fosun Pharma, the shot will be ready for production and distribution almost immediately, a source told Global Times.
Scoring approval in China for a vaccine from the West is a significant milestone in a country that has five domestic vaccines of questionable quality. Under a prior agreement, struck by BioNTech and Fosun in March 2020, the Chinese drugmaker is assisting with local development. Fosun will also be in charge of commercialization in China if the shot is approved.
Fosun has readied a storage facility in the Pudong section of Shanghai for the launch, Global Times reports. Workers there have conducted drills to test the cold-chain transportation system that will be key in distributing the vaccine.
As the lone mRNA vaccine in China, BioNTech’s shot could provide a valuable alternative to the shots already available. Other vaccines in the country have won approvals despite questionable effectiveness.
Earlier this month, one of the country’s top disease control officials, in a rare admission, said that the Chinese vaccines offered a low level of protection against the virus and suggested that mixing them might improve their effectiveness.
Two of the vaccines, produced by state-run firms Sinopharm and Sinovac, have a chance to gain legitimacy in the coming weeks as they are set to be reviewed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO already has signed off on the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson and is seeking more suppliers to meet global demand, especially in developing countries.
Another sign that China is willing to endorse western vaccines came this week with news that it will accept travelers who have been vaccinated with shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. China previously allowed only travelers who had received domestic vaccines.
It is not the first time China has engaged with a western firm for COVID-19 vaccine production. In August of last year, AstraZeneca signed a similar development, production and commercialization deal with BioKangtai, which agreed to manufacture 100 million doses of the jab by the end of 2020.
Meanwhile, Fosun is ramping up for the anticipated approval of the jab and is working on supply agreements. One of those, finalized late last year, is to provide 7.5 million vaccine doses to Hong Kong.