BEIJING: China said on Friday (Oct 9) it has formally joined the global COVID-19 vaccine facility known as COVAX, becoming the biggest economy to back the initiative to date.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement that China has ample COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capabilities and will prioritise supplying developing countries when vaccines are ready.
The COVAX facility, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to deliver at least 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021.
The move by China, where COVID-19 was first reported, comes as it holds separate talks with the WHO to have its locally produced COVID-19 vaccines assessed for international use.
It also comes amid international criticism about Beijing's handling of the pandemic that led unfavourable views toward China to soar in a recent survey of advanced countries.
"This is an important step China has taken to uphold the concept of a shared community of health for all," said Hua.
China will continue to focus on ensuring that developing countries have "equal access to appropriate, safe and effective vaccines", she added.
The statement did not give details on the level of support Beijing will provide to the programme. However, President Xi Jinping pledged in May US$2 billion over the next two years to help deal with the pandemic that has claimed more than 1 million lives to date.
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All vaccines developed and deployed by China will be made into a global public good, the statement said.
China also pledged to strengthen vaccine cooperation with relevant countries through the COVAX network.
"China will continue to work together with COVAX partners and contribute its share to the global fight against the pandemic to safeguard all human beings' safety and health," said Hua.
China joins 168 countries and regions that have already announced their participation in COVAX including 76 wealthy, self-financing ones.
But neither the US nor Russia have joined the programme.
COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
It is designed to discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country.
China has at least four experimental vaccines in the final stage of clinical trials - two are developed by state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG), and the remaining two are from Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics, respectively.
It has also inoculated hundreds of thousands of essential workers and other groups considered as high risk, even as clinical trials had not been fully completed, raising safety concerns among experts.