China Pledges 2 Billion Vaccines Globally Through Year's End

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- President Xi Jinping pledged that China will supply a total of 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries through this year, increasing its commitment as the largest exporter of the shots.

Xi's announcement was delivered Thursday at the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation, state media reported.

That figure likely includes the 770 million doses China has already donated or exported since September last year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of the Chinese shots have been exported under bilateral deals. It is unclear if the figure also includes agreements with the U.N.-backed COVAX program in which two Chinese vaccine manufacturers will provide up to 550 million doses.

Xi also promised to donate $100 million to the COVAX program, which aims to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday night.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese shots, the vast majority of which are from Sinopharm and Sinovac, have already been administered to people in many countries across the world. However, there are concerns about whether they protect adequately against the new, highly transmissible delta variant.

In Indonesia and Thailand, which have relied heavily on Sinovac's shot, the governments are planning boosters for health workers using Moderna doses after reports that some have died after being fully vaccinated with the Chinese shot.

The two traditional-style Chinese vaccines, which both use inactivated viruses, have shown lower effectiveness against the delta variant but still provide some protection, according to Feng Zijian, an official at China's Center for Disease Control, who spoke to state broadcaster CCTV in June.

Most of the more than 1.7 billion vaccine doses that have been administered inside China are from Sinopharm and Sinovac. China is currently fighting a new outbreak of infections, many in people who have already been vaccinated.

Sinovac published a study online in July, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, that showed a third booster shot given at least six months after the second shot could greatly increase antibody levels.

The company has submitted clinical research data to regulators for emergency use approval for new variations of its CoronaVac shot designed for the newer delta and gamma variants, CEO Yin Weidong announced at the vaccine forum, which China hosted virtually.

CanSino, another private company whose vaccine is in use in Pakistan, Mexico and other countries, said it is working on adapting it for the variants. Its founder, Zhu Tao, said Thursday that the vaccine did show declines in effectiveness in lab tests against the delta variant.

Zhu said the company's latest research data also show that a third booster shot would significantly raise antibody levels.

State-owned Sinopharm has told state media that it is developing vaccines tailored to four major variants, including the delta variant.

Globally, vaccine distributions have been starkly unequal, as wealthy countries consider issuing booster shots to their citizens and poorer nations struggle to get enough vaccines for a first dose.

"Over 4 billion vaccines have been administered globally, but more than 75% of those have gone to just 10 countries," World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the vaccine forum.

Access to vaccines has also been dominated by geopolitics.

China has been accused of using vaccines as leverage in diplomatic dealings. In June, diplomats told The Associated Press that China had threatened to withhold vaccines to pressure Ukraine into withdrawing from a statement calling for more scrutiny of China's treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in its Xinjiang region.

U.S. President Joe Biden made a point of saying that American vaccine donations would come without "pressure for favors or potential concessions" when announcing U.S. donation plans in June.

The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. has donated 110 million doses, most of which were through COVAX coordinated by Gavi, a vaccine alliance.

Japan has also stepped up its donations in the region, pledging 30 million doses through COVAX and other channels. It has already donated several million doses through bilateral deals.

Taiwan was one beneficiary of Japan's aid, after the island faced an outbreak which stressed its health system in May and June. Taiwan accused China, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory, of interfering in deals to buy the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.