China should put aside policy issues over vaccine imports, CEO says

China must put political issues aside over vaccine imports: Serum Institute of India CEO

China must put political considerations behind and look at importing Covid-19 vaccines to end the pandemic globally, according to the CEO of the world’s newest vaccine maker.

“They need to open up to healthcare and vaccines from the West and put aside any political issues or things that are holding them back,” Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

China has seen a massive spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths after abruptly ending its zero-Covid policy, which imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine on arrival in the country.

China’s full Covid vaccination rate is nearly 87%, according to figures from the World Health Organization, which show 54% of the population has also been vaccinated with a booster shot.

The main Covid vaccines approved in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm. These vaccines are less effective against the Omicron variant than other mRNA vaccines like those from Pfizer and BioNTech, multiple studies have found.

Poonawalla said China’s response to the 2020 pandemic — which included building hospitals and infrastructure and taking precautionary measures — showed Beijing could respond quickly.

He stressed China’s decision not to import vaccines from the US, India and other countries, which are “very effective”.

“I think they need to take this really seriously now, at least as a booster shot, and take vaccines that have proven, real-world data and efficacy,” he told CNBC. “Otherwise, the alternative is that many people in China will continue to get infected, and we only hope – we wish them the best of luck in trying to navigate this crisis and get out of it as soon as possible.”

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He added that this is also a global issue given the number of people who would like to travel to China for business or pleasure, as well as the number of Chinese nationals who would travel abroad.

“We really need to end the pandemic and infection in every country because we all need to be safe,” Poonawalla said.

“They are [China] are still deciding which way to go and I hope it all ends quickly.”

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India manufactures more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccines for various diseases annually. Poonawalla said the company is interested in supplying China with vaccines but talks with Beijing officials have so far been unsuccessful.

CNBC has reached out to a Chinese government official for comment.

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