A security worker is on duty wearing a face mask, surgical gown and rubber gloves. Anyone who enters this part of the warehouse is either quarantined for two weeks or wears a hazmat suit from head to toe.
In the coming months, China will send hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine to countries that have conducted experiments with its leading candidates in the final phase. Chinese leaders have also promised that access to successful vaccinations will be a priority on a growing list of developing countries.
Vaccines “Beijing can also use as a foreign policy tool to promote soft power and international influence,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior global health officer at the Washington-based Foreign Relations Council.
Beijing Vaccination Diplomacy, Huang he said he could give it another chance.
In China, there are currently four coronavirus candidates from four companies that have achieved Phase 3 clinical trials, the final and most important step in testing before seeking official approval.
After the coronavirus was largely eradicated within its borders, Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturers had to look abroad for places to test the effectiveness of their vaccines. Together, Phase 3 trials were introduced in at least 16 countries.
In return, many host countries have been promised early access to successful vaccinations – and in some cases local know-how is being produced.
“China not only has the political will (for its vaccination diplomacy), but also a strong ability to do so,” Huang said.
Since China largely contained the virus, there is no urgent need to vaccinate its 1.4 billion people. “It gives me that leverage … to do business with countries in need of vaccinations,” he said.
“Health Silk Road”
“So far, we have not heard the United States say or suggest that one percent of their vaccine be set aside to support poor countries. So this puts China in an even better position to use the vaccine to achieve its foreign policy goal,” Huang said.
China joined a global initiative supported by the World Health Organization in October to ensure the rapid and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in both rich and poor countries.
The project, known as COVAX, aims to deter governments from accumulating coronavirus vaccines and instead focus on vaccinating high-risk groups in all countries. But the United States avoided in part because President Donald Trump did not want to work with the WHO, leaving a global public health leadership vacuum for China.
From the beginning, Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed that China’s vaccines are for sharing, especially with the developing world.
In a video conference with African leaders in June, Xi promised that “once the development and deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine in China is completed, African countries will be among the first to benefit.”
In August, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said that Beijing would also give priority to Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Other countries to which Chinese officials have promised privileged access are Afghanistan and Malaysia.
Then there is the issue of efficiency. Last month, Pfizer and Moderna announced that early results showed that their vaccines were more than 90% effective, while the other candidate, jointly produced by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, had an average efficiency of 70%. To date, none of the Chinese vaccine candidates have reported preliminary efficacy results, although company executives have repeatedly stressed their safety, insisting that no serious adverse effects were observed in vaccinated volunteers.
Compared to Pfizer and Moderna, Chinese vaccines have a decisive advantage – most of them do not require a freezing point for storage, making transport and distribution much easier, especially in developing countries where there is no cold storage capacity.
Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use pieces of genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA) to stimulate the body to produce synthetic pieces of the coronavirus and stimulate the immune response – a new technology not used in current vaccines.
Nevertheless, the required temperatures must be maintained during transport, from leaving the production site to airport storage and finally to global distribution.
Cainiao, the logistics arm of Alibaba’s Chinese e-commerce giant, will help distribute Chinese vaccines as they launch. He says his air-conditioned, end-to-end infrastructure is there and ready.
Cainiao also works with Ethiopian Airlines, which sends Chinese vaccines to the Middle East and then to Africa. Since the epidemic, the airline has delivered more than 3,000 tons of medical care from Shenzhen to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America.
But Cainiao CEO Wan Lin said he wants to take additional routes to achieve greater global reach.
“Of course, we’re still not quite sure of the exact need, but we’re definitely developing our ability to prepare for that,” Wan said.
CNN’s Emma Reynolds contributed to this story.