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China pledged to make its coronavirus vaccine a global public good once one is available, with President Xi Jinping seeking to defuse criticism of its response to a pandemic that has killed more than 315,000 people around the world.
Xi’s comments come amid growing concern that countries will put national interests first in the quest for a protective shot, seen as the key to getting economies moving again.
“Covid-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good, which will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries,” Xi said in a speech to the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
The European Union’s own proposal to the assembly struck a similar tone, highlighting the need for all countries to have “unhindered timely access” to shots, medicines, diagnostics and any other technologies needed to fight the pandemic.
Among the dozens of vaccine projects under way worldwide, China has five candidates already in human trials. More will enter such tests next month.
The country has faced rising scrutiny over its handling of the virus, especially from members of the Trump administration. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said in a television appearance that the country sent “hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York and around the world to seed” it.
China acted with transparency and responsibility all along, and provided information to the WHO and countries in the most timely fashion, according to Xi. China will provide $2 billion over two years to support the fight against the pandemic, especially in developing countries, he said.
The WHO said this month that it’s considering a new mission to China to seek the source of the virus. International experts were part of a previous delegation to the country in February, at the height of China’s outbreak.
“We need to pursue international cooperation on testing methods, clincal treatment, and vaccine and medicine research and development,” Xi said. “We need to continue supporting global research by scientists on the source and transmission of virus.”
The WHO has also faced criticism from the Trump administration that it was too deferential to China over its handling of the crisis. The EU’s draft resolution, backed by countries including Brazil, Japan and Canada, suggested evaluating the WHO’s response to the pandemic “at the earliest appropriate moment.”
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed calls for an impartial independent and comphrehensive evaluation.
“It must encompass the entirety of the response by all actors in good faith,” he said in a speech. “So I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review the experience gained and lessons learned and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response.”
As the hunt for the virus’s origins continues and political wrangling grows, efforts to find treatments and vaccines are heating up. Some companies involved in the development of protective shots have suggested countries that provide funding will get first dibs.
AstraZeneca Plc Chief Exective Officer Pascal Soriot said the U.K. will take priority for the University of Oxford’s fast-moving effort. French drugmaker Sanofi’s vaccine that received funding from the U.S. will likely be used there initially, CEO Paul Hudson said last week. Sanofi said later that its vaccine would be available to everyone.
The WHO is pushing a proposal that aims to ensure broad access to treatments and vaccines while offering an appropriate reward to creators.