The international race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 has become a “manhood type of competition” for Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Follow our live coronavirus blog here.

The international race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 has become a “manhood type of competition” for Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Follow our live coronavirus blog here.

China is desperate to find a vaccine for COVID-19 as it seeks to change its image from being a source of the virus to becoming a saviour. It is a critical time – especially as the United States withdraws from its leading role in many international institutions – to persuade the Chinese people, struggling with economic crisis and mass unemployment, that theirs is still a powerful nation.
The pressure to win is entangled in global politics driven by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.
“It’s almost a manhood type of competition between Trump and Xi Jinping,” said Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University and an advisor to the World Health Organisation. “It’s a competition not just for health, but for national prestige, and for which system is a better system. So the stakes are extraordinarily high.”
In the balance: Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. David Rowe
More than 130 candidates for the vaccine are under development around the world, but only 10 of them have entered clinical trials, according to a recent update from the WHO. Half of those are Chinese.
The highest-profile candidate is a vaccine developed by bio-pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics in partnership with the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, which belongs to the Chinese military. CanSino is developing a virus vector vaccine, which uses a different virus to carry a piece of the coronavirus’ genetic material into the patient’s cells, teaching the patient’s body to recognise and react to it.
The results of CanSino’s Phase I trials were published in the Lancet, the medical journal, last month. They found that the vaccine was mostly safe and produced an immune system reaction in all 108 trial members – a preliminary but inconclusive sign that it could be effective. The vaccine created adverse reactions, including fever and fatigue. The symptoms didn’t last long, and the drug passed Phase I safety requirements.
CanSino now has 500 people in Phase II trials. It recently signed an agreement to manufacture and potentially continue clinical trials for the vaccine in Canada.
The other four Chinese candidates in clinical trials are working on a more traditional type of vaccine that uses a weakened or inactivated version of the coronavirus to trigger an immune response. One of those developers, Sinovac Biotech, signed an agreement last week to produce and test its vaccine in Brazil, where 9000 volunteers have signed up for a Phase III trial in July.
Phase III trials typically require thousands of volunteers to be given the vaccine, then observed in a hotspot where the virus is still spreading. But China has mostly suppressed the COVID-19 spread within its borders, which means it had no suitable domestic location for Phase III trials.
Brazil, which has more than 800,000 infections, second only to the United States, could provide in ideal testing ground. In exchange, the Brazilian research partner, Instituto Butantan, will get to license the vaccine and ensure Brazilians’ access.
Another vaccine candidate by the University of Oxford and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca – supported by Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s COVID-19 vaccine initiative – is also testing their vaccine on 2,000 volunteers in Brazil. An American vaccine candidate developed by Cambridge-based Moderna is, meanwhile, set to conduct phase III trials on 30,000 people in the US next month.
The incendiary rhetoric over the virus – Trump repeatedly blames China for the spread of the disease – is the latest turn in a new Cold War between Beijing and Washington. Comparisons of the vaccine race to a “Sputnik moment,” where China and the US vie for superiority, place pressure on scientists to lower safety standards for geopolitical interests, said Gostin, the advisor to the WHO.
“It is very dangerous to call it a race,” he said. “It’s playing with fire.”

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