A medical staff member receives a booster shot of the Sinopharm Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in Wuhan, China
Beijing has refused to approve any of the western Covid-19 vaccines, instead relying mainly on homegrown jabs © AFP/Getty Images

Beijing will be unable to control the spread of Covid-19 unless it imports foreign-made vaccines that are more effective than Chinese-made jabs, Joe Biden’s coronavirus tsar has warned.

Ashish Jha, who runs the US coronavirus response, said in an interview at a conference organised by the FT and the Commonwealth Fund that all the empirical evidence suggests Chinese-made Covid vaccines are “not as good” as mRNA shots made by Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer.

Other Covid vaccines based on different technologies developed in the UK and elsewhere, such as the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, are also superior to vaccines made in China, he added.

“I really do worry about the Chinese ability to manage the virus and keep the population immunity high with the vaccines they have. They really do need, I think, higher-quality vaccines,” Jha said in an interview.

“We’ve been very clear that we think it’s important to use high-quality vaccines and that there are lots of mechanisms for countries to develop and get those vaccines if they don’t have them.”

Pressure is mounting on China’s communist government over its “dynamic zero-Covid” policy, which has relied on mass quarantining, testing and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. Public protests have erupted over the past week across the country in response to restrictions and lockdowns introduced in several cities.

Beijing has refused to approve any of the western Covid vaccines, instead relying mainly on homegrown jabs made by Sinovac and Sinopharm, which are both approved by the World Health Organization.

Experts believe the main Chinese-made vaccines provide high levels of protection from severe illness and death with three doses. But they are less effective and fade faster than the mRNA technology developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, which are used across the west.

Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said there was strong evidence that a mix and match of the Chinese vaccines with a western-made mRNA booster provides more protection than three or four Sinovac or Sinopharm shots.

Earlier this week Germany suggested China should use western vaccines to help manage the pandemic.

Last month, Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz announced an agreement with Beijing to let expatriates in China use the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and pressed the government to allow the shot to be made available to Chinese citizens as well.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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