Five Chinese vaccine candidates are in phase three trials in at least 16 countries, according to China Briefing.
Sinovac has already vaccinated thousands of its employees and has begun selling two doses to the public for $80 at a clinic outside Shanghai.
The acceleration has buoyed global stockmarkets from Tokyo to New York amid rising consumer confidence but raised concerns about transparency of the findings as governments race to protect their population with the first available products.
China, which largely contained the virus by March after it was first detected in Wuhan last December, has been active across the developing world in promoting its vaccines and medical equipment after it received international assistance during the initial outbreak.
Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Liao Liqiang on Tuesday thanked Arab leaders as the Chinese government pledged to help the region.
“We will never forget how the leaders of the Arab countries expressed their solidarity with China via messages and phone calls at its most difficult time of fighting the pandemic,” he said.
The United States on Friday AEDST will debate whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine after a 90-year-old grandmother in the UK became the first person vaccinated under emergency authorisation for the vaccine from the British government.
Australia has bought 10 million doses from Pfizer but Australians will have to wait until March to get vaccinated, while millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be produced by CSL in the expectation of it being approved.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday said a vaccine “was close” but the lesson of 2020 here and around the world, was to “stay the course, stay vigilant”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had access to three of the vaccines in stage three clinical trials which was “a wonderful result”.
Unlike the US and the UK, Australia largely contained the virus after an outbreak in Melbourne between May and June, leading to calls for patience as Australia awaits the results of the international programs.
Jeremy Lim, an associate professor in the school of public health at the National University of Singapore, said countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia that have managed to suppress the virus should not and likely will not be among the first to vaccinate their populations.
“Singapore might as well wait until the safety profile is demonstrated across millions of people who have been vaccinated [as opposed to the tens of thousands involved in current trials],” he said.
“The economics will be much more favourable after the first 100 or 200 million doses are distributed too.”
China and Australia have signed up to the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facilities which aims to provide an equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.
But the US has not, giving China a diplomatic opening to reach key partners across the Indo-Pacific.
Indonesia and the Philippines, the two countries hardest hit by COVID-19 in south-east Asia, are both looking to China for rapid access to vaccines.
Indonesia has edged towards 600,000 cases and is recording close to 6000 cases per day and the Philippines is reporting close to 450,000 cases and more than a 1000 cases per day.
Indonesia President Joko Widodo has touted the arrival of 1.2 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine from China on Sunday.
Another 1.8 million doses are due to arrive in January, while state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma will process a further 45 million doses locally.
But questions remain about the efficacy of this vaccine and, despite promises vaccination would begin in November or December, and Indonesia’s Food and Drug Agency chief announce last month it will not grant emergency use authorisation until late January at the earliest.
For China, providing access to a vaccine that could bring under control outbreaks that have laid waste to economies around the world would be a powerful piece of diplomacy.
The pressing regional dispute over China’s expansive claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea, which is hotly contested by Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and even Indonesia, pales in comparison to those country’s domestic political demand to bring the virus to heel.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.