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'We Will Share Our Vaccine with the World.' Inside the Chinese Biotech Firm Leading the Fight Against COVID-19

During the 2002 to 2003 SARS outbreak, which claimed over 774 lives worldwide, Chinese biotech company SinoVac was the only firm to go into phase 1 vaccine trials, but the pandemic suddenly disappeared. That meant that research was discontinued at a huge loss for the firm. It wasn't entirely wasted, however. Now, 17 years later, SinoVac is able to build on that earlier work, given that COVID-19 is very similar to SARS. It and coronavirus are "like brothers," says Yin Weidong, the CEO of SinoVac.

In principle, SinoVac is a private company that owns CoronaVac as its licensed intellectual property, meaning where the vaccine is distributed should be a purely commercial decision. However, the Chinese government has contributed to the estimated one billion renminbi (about $140 million) the firm is investing in CoronaVac. This and other contributions from international NGOs currently under negotiation all come with distribution commitments attached.

In a speech to the World Health Assembly on May 18, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to make a COVID-19 vaccine produced in China a "global public good." In reality, of course, every queue has someone at the back, meaning there will be much jostling for priority - and potentially boosting Beijing's global clout.

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