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China should put aside political issues on vaccine imports, CEO says

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China needs to maneuver past political considerations and take a look at importing Covid-19 jabs to finish the pandemic globally, in keeping with the chief executive of the world’s latest vaccine manufacturer.

“They should open themselves as much as healthcare and vaccines from the West and put aside any political issues or things which are holding them back,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche on the World Economic Forum in Davos.

China has experienced an enormous spike in Covid-19 cases and fatalities after abruptly ending its zero-Covid policy, which imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine on arrival into the country.

China’s full Covid vaccination rate is almost 87%, in keeping with World Health Organization figures, which show 54% of the population has also been inoculated with a booster jab.

The important Covid vaccines approved to be used in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm. These jabs are less effective against the Omicron variant than are other mRNA vaccines, equivalent to Pfizer and BioNTech’s, several studies have found.

Poonawalla said China’s pandemic response of 2020 — which included constructing hospitals and infrastructure and taking precautions — showed that Beijing could respond rapidly.

He stressed China’s decision to not import vaccines from the U.S., India and elsewhere, which have been “very effective.”

“I believe they might have to actually seriously take a look at doing that now, as a booster at the least, and take vaccines which have proven, real-world data and efficacy,” he told CNBC. “Otherwise the choice is that a variety of people in China are going to proceed to get infected and we just hope — we wish them the very best of luck in trying to administer that crisis and are available out of it as soon as possible.”

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He added that this also represents a world issue, given the number of people that wish to travel to China for business or leisure, in addition to the variety of Chinese nationals who can be travelling overseas.

“We really want to finish the pandemic and infection in every country, because all of us have to be protected,” Poonawalla said.

“They’re [China] still making up their minds on which way they wish to go and I hope all of it ends quickly.”

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India produces greater than 1.5 billion vaccine doses annually for various diseases. Poonawalla said that the corporate would have an interest to supply vaccines to China, but that discussions with Beijing officials had been unsuccessful up to now.

CNBC has contacted a Chinese government representative for comment.

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