China's 'Vaccine Diplomacy' Begins as Shots to Be Rolled Out in Turkey, Latin America

A Chinese coronavirus vaccine is set to be rolled out in Turkey later this month, with some Latin American country also in line to receive COVID-19 shots developed in the East Asian nation over the coming months.

On Wednesday, Turkish health minister Fahrettin Koca said his country had ordered 50 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine produced by China's Sinovac Biotech pharmaceutical company, with the first shipment set to arrive on December 11, according to a statement.

Turkish labs will assess the safety of the vaccine and initial results from Phase III clinical trials, with an emergency use authorization possible soon, he said.

"If developments continue positively as we expect, Turkey would be among the first countries in the world to begin vaccinations in the early phase," Koca said.

The vaccine is one of five COVID-19 shots being developed in China that are currently undergoing large-scale, Phase III clinical trials, which are typically required before regulatory approval.

Despite the fact that none of these trials have been completed, Chinese authorities have approved the CoronaVac shot and others for limited emergency use among high-risk groups.

While the chair of one of the Chinese vaccine developers Sinopharm said the company's shot had been administered to around one million people in China without reports of serious adverse effects, experts within and outside the country have raised concerns about using vaccines that have not passed through the full process of clinical trials, Nature reported.

A top U.S. military commander, Adm. Craig Faller, said in a video meeting with members of the Defense Writers Group on Wednesday that China was trying to get COVID-19 vaccines "deployed and employed" around the world to stop the pandemic—in places like Turkey, for example—while the United States was "looking to take care" of itself first, according to a New York Times article.

The commander said that China was likely to beat the U.S. in what he described as its "own backyard"—in reference to Central and South America—using "vaccine diplomacy," according to the report.

Vaccines developed in China are being tested in clinical trials in Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Peru, while Mexico has agreed to buy 35 million doses of the COVID-19 shot manufactured by Chinese firm CanSino Biologics.

São Paulo state in Brazil has ordered more than 45 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, with about a million doses having already arrived, Reuters reported.

São Paulo's Butantan Institute biomedical center, which is conducting late-stage trials of the vaccine across the state, said efficacy results are expected by December 15, with the state governor suggesting that vaccinations could begin in January despite frequent criticisms of the Chinese shot from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

In July, the Chinese government announced that it would provide a $1 billion loan for Latin American and Caribbean nations, for the purposes of securing COVID-19 vaccines.

Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times criticized the characterization that it was engaging in "vaccine diplomacy" in Latin America to win support, in an article published on Thursday.

"Such normal cooperation was tagged by the U.S. media as China's 'vaccine diplomacy' to win support in Latin America, which again proved the U.S. is gauging China's generosity with its own mean measure, analysts said," the article read.

"The U.S. has long seen Latin America as its 'backyard,' and even though it cannot supply them with vaccines, it does not allow China to do so," the article said, citing Lü Xiang, a research fellow on U.S. studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

According to the Global Times piece, Lü said the "arms race" discourse perpetuated by the U.S. media is "unnecessary" given that vaccine manufacturers will likely struggle to meet global demand over the next six month.

Lü told the news outlet that countries with the capability should produce as many vaccine doses as possible. The expert said that the if there was a vaccine race, "it is not between China and the U.S., but a race against time to save lives."

"The U.S. can feel free to continue its 'America first' strategy, prioritizing domestic needs and supplying its allies, but it should not be narrow-minded and hinder China's cooperation and aid to other countries," the article said, citing Lü.

In the Defense Writers Group video meeting, Faller said he didn't "make any judgement" on China's vaccine deals in Latin America.

"Look, we're in a global pandemic and I've taken the approach here that any help is legitimate help is welcome help," Faller said. "If the vaccine works, folks need to do what they need to do as a nation."

CoronaVac vaccine
São Paulo Governor João Doria shows reporters a package of the CoronaVac vaccine as containers carrying doses of it are unloaded from a cargo plane that arrived from China at Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil, on December 3. NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images