By Herman Tiu Laurel
As far back as September 2020, rich countries have already bought up more than half of the projected production of COVID-19 vaccines. Canada reserved vaccine doses that were five times more than its population, the US reserved for four times its population, and the UK, three times its population.
Only China was left to give priority to the less endowed, mostly Third World countries. China should be not only be appreciated for this; more importantly, it should be understood.
China understands that, in this unavoidably globalized world, a virus in one part of the globe cannot be stopped unless all the rest of the world is made safe from it. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) said China announced to the world posthaste the results of its efforts to decode the COVID-19 genome.
China had reported its genome findings to the world very early to allow for the early search of a vaccine by every capable nation. In May 2020, President Xi Jinping announced to the WHO World Health Assembly that China’s vaccine – when ready – would be a “global public good.”
Since President Xi’s announcement, China has been delivering on its promise to treat its vaccine production as a “global public good.” Thus, it is serving mainly the developing countries from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, from Africa to Latin America.
The cynical think tanks of the West describe China’s policy derogatorily as “vaccine diplomacy,” attributing this to a “charm offensive” or “aimed at repairing damaged relations” when it is simply an expression of China’s socialist ideal of “internationalism.”
The capitalist West and its ideological followers need to be educated on the socialist spirit of internationalism, defined as “a policy of cooperation among nations.” Socialists of all nations have historically tried to establish the global links to realize internationalism – from the First up to the Fourth International. The UN is supposed to be the current global body of internationalist cooperation.
The WHO is supposed to be the “Internationale” for global cooperation and promotion of health but the US, under former President Donald Trump, has sullied it, smearing the institution and some of its leading members, like China, and subsequently, withdrawing its membership from the organization. Today, the US, hoping to recover from the Trump nightmare, has a new President Joseph Biden who has signified his intention to rejoin the WHO and restart cooperation.
At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which was done through video conferencing, President Xi Jinping – together with Germany’s Merkel, India’s Modi, and other leaders again, stressed multilateralism – the idea of countries engaged in collective consultation and decision-making as opposed to unilateralism and arbitrary decision-taking and action by powerful nations (without mentioning the US) regardless of consequences to other states.
I bring this up as internationalism is the higher level of multilateralism because it is already an a priori commitment to work together towards a common good.
As the result of is vaccine Internationalism advocacy, China is now working with 40 countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, UAE, Bahrain, Serbia, the African Union, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina – through friendship donations, joint venture production, and other agreements. Chinese Pharma Sinovac alone is geared to produce 1-billion doses in 2021, and several more Chinese companies are ramping up production and agreements.
An article in the Diplomat reported on President Xi Jinping’s message at the 2021 Davos World Economic Conference, “’China’s Xi Caps Multilateralism at Davos, Again’. Once again, China's leader addressed the World Economic Forum to outline his vision for global governance.” That governance is based on all nations working together sans the US unilateralism of the past 30 years.
The US has been struggling to put off this transition event of the 21st Century, clutching desperately its “exorbitant privilege” as holder of the world’s main international currency and its role as “the world’s policeman.” But it cannot be put off any longer. One clear indication is that the new US president, Joe Biden, is not even scheduled to attend nor speak, even by virtual presence, at the Davos World Economic Forum this year.
The US attempt at “vaccine imperialism”, which involves putting down other vaccines while announcing with “shock and awe” the “effectiveness” of its vaccines has backfired. Persistently sprouting up in Western and global media are reports of the deaths of dozens of seniors in Norway linked to the Pfizer vaccine. There is continuous mention of a batch of 330,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine being halted in Stanislaw county in California due to serious allergic reactions. And 12,000 remain infected by COVID-19 despite inoculation with Pfizer, etc.
The initial propaganda barrage of US media put not only Chinese vaccines, but also those from Russia and Cuba, at a disadvantage. As a new entrant to the global market, China has had to take time to consolidate the data from its vaccine trials in half a dozen countries. Now that it has consolidated its data, China has been able to report a realistic efficacy rate.
When US media reported the announcements of US Pharma regarding the fantastic results of its vaccines, its skeptics were not similarly reported in the media. But Peter Doshi of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) questioned the data, pointing out that the trial data were not complete, the sampling was limited (Asians were only 4.3 percent), and the testing of subjects was not based on swab tests. Japanese vaccine expert Masayuki Miyasaka also questioned the announced figures and the way they were announced.
Miyasaka was surprised to hear that the US vaccines had 90- to 95 percent effectiveness, when influenza vaccines are said to only be around 30- to 50-percent effective, hence, the 50-percent effectiveness threshold of WHO, the US, Europe and the Philippine FDA.
China’s vaccine has had different rates of effectiveness in the countries that conducted trials with its vaccines, and we can expect the same in our trials of Sinovac in the Philippines. Brazil front-liners (doctors, nurses) tested and obtained 78-percentr efficacy initially but this was later corrected to 50.4 percent.
Other countries also reported different rates of Chinese vaccine efficacy. Indonesia found 65 percent, UAE found 86 percent and Turkey found 91.25 percent efficacy. In one summation, Chinese authorities announced a more nuanced assessment of its vaccines declaring that these are “100 percent in preventing severe cases, reducing hospitalizations up to 80 percent and with an overall efficacy of 50.4 percent. Most important is safety of the vaccines, which is undisputed. Trust is the key: hence, a number of world leaders have been first in their countries to be inoculated with Chinese vaccines such as Turkey’s Erdogan, Indonesia’s Widodo, and others.
Taking the cue from China’s advocacy of vaccine internationalism, the US and the rest of the world can rise to the higher stage of internationalism structured around the architecture of a multipolar world that China has advocated for the past two decades. This will enable us, all of us together, to aim at permanent global cooperation for durable peace, prosperity, and safety from future pandemics and other natural global crises.
By then, another of China’s constant messages would have been achieved, “the community of Shared Future for Mankind.”
(Herman Tiu Laurel is founder of Philippine BRICS Strategic Studies, a geopolitical think tank advocating the multipolar world, and a former regular columnist of several newspapers, radio-TV- social media educator, a former administrator of a UN-GOP project, and senatorial candidate in 1995.)