People in China will soon be offered the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine — but only if they are not Chinese.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the deal today during a visit to China accompanied by a cohort of business leaders from his country, including BioNTech chief Uğur Şahin.
Scholz agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping and outgoing Prime Minister Li Keqiang that the countries will work more closely in the fight against the coronavirus, he said.
“This also includes an approval of the BioNTech vaccine for expats in China,” he said during a press conference in Beijing.
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The chancellor did not specify if he was referring to German expats only, or all expats in the country. But one influential financial news outlet, Caixin, reported that the BioNTech vaccine would only be available to “German expats” in China.
But down the line, Scholz made clear he hoped this would be a “first step” toward the wider use of the vaccine, through the general approval of the shot in China.
“Closer cooperation with the EU medicines agency [the European Medicines Agency] would pave the way here,” he added, suggesting that BioNTech’s marketing authorization application is still pending.
BioNTech filed for a Chinese license for its COVID-19 vaccine last year. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the proceedings.
Friday’s announcement is nonetheless a significant first step for China, which has to date relied heavily on domestically produced vaccines, notably from Sinopharm and CanSino, in the fight against the coronavirus.
These vaccines, which use an older technology based on an inactivated form of the virus, have been outperformed in numerous studies by the new mRNA vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.
While several companies in China are also developing mRNA COVID vaccines, so far none have been approved. Meanwhile, a partnership between China’s Fosun and BioNTech established early in the pandemic has also failed to deliver the German firm’s shot to the eastern market.
Scholz touted that the vaccine from BioNTech, developed with Pfizer, was “one of the most effective vaccines to combat the pandemic” and allowed the government to ease public health restrictions.
China has pursued a zero-COVID policy and enforced strict lockdown measures to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.
Scholz acknowledged that China’s means of fighting the pandemic “differ greatly” from Germany, but that they are aligned in their fight against the pathogen.
And while vaccine nationalism became a feature of the pandemic, the same cannot be said for treatments: China approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid in February this year, under a conditional marketing authorization.
Stuart Lau contributed reporting.
This article is part of POLITICO Pro
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