A new Bloomberg opinion piece, “A Chinese Vaccine Could Save American Lives,” makes the point that in the context of an ongoing “trade war” US-China are failing to cooperate on the world’s COVID-19 crisis. Many have had complaints about the current POTUS administration’s China trade policies, pointing to higher prices and expensive farmer bailouts. But the failure to cooperate on vaccine efforts is the, “biggest cost of the trade war — measured in lives lost, lingering business uncertainty and a longer economic downturn.” Since we don’t know which vaccines will work yet, the US federal government has advance purchased seven vaccines so production can be ramped-up when the data on efficacy and safety is in. The seven include multinational firms, but “there should be at least one Chinese vaccine included, but there is not.” Bloomberg’s Op-Ed is by Tyler Cowen, a libertarian-leaning economics professor at George Mason University.
For one thing, the familiar refrain about, “the China virus” creates political difficulties in two directions: the Chinese become resentful and less eager to cooperate, and Americans become less willing to take a Chinese-made vaccine. There have been no serious efforts to do a vaccine-sharing deal with China. And while early on, US observers practically sneered at Chinese vaccine work, now China is a top contender with four vaccines in Stage 3 trials. Early date from Brazil shows that the Sinovac product is safe. And The UAE is doing Phase 3 trials on BBIBP-CorV, another vaccine candidate. Some vaccines are already being given to military and state-firm personnel, while US standard would not allow this. Based on its near total information grid , China, “is effectively conducting its Stage 3 trial in public, and at an accelerated pace.” And whether we think this wise or not, folks in the US could benefit, “because it is China is taking all the risk and generating the information.”
Mutual Insurance Contract Needed?
But thinking big picture and longer term perhaps Chinese have some advantages. They are designed for fast production and scalability, so even if their products are not the most potent, they may be the most available. Even without the current administration and without a trade war, the US and China may still have failed to make a vaccine deal. But China has been highly active in advance sales of vaccines in other nations. And China just joined the vaccine-sharing arrangement “COVAX,” which the US has not done. While the US should not give major concessions for a part in Chinese vaccines, “it is quite possible that Chine would be open to a cash deal.” At the same time, China could purchase rights to US vaccines as a “mutual insurance contract.” While it might be humbling for the US to need a Chinese vaccine, “eating a little crow would be a small price to pay for a useful vaccine, given the immense damage wrought by Covid-19.”
‘Better Safe than Sorry?’
Although on the other hand a strong argument can be made that the Chinese and Russian vaccine makers have taken far too many unacceptable and unorthodox steps for any deal making to occur. The vaccines coming out of China and Russia are not following the same drug development linear trajectory as those in Europe and the United States for example. A seemingly different set of standard emerge for the research and development and ultimate commercialization of these investigational products. The lead vaccine out of Russia and the tope three in China have all found ways to turbo charge acceleration of timelines even getting registrations of product before a Phase 3 clinical trial is even a quarter of the way started! See more of TrialSite’s perspective on this topic.