Chinese vaccines sweep world, despite concerns

In what some are calling “vaccine diplomacy,” China is offering its vaccines to dozens of poorer nations around the world. But concerns over safety and efficacy, as well as a dearth of publicly available data also means many are suspicious. (March 2)

Video Transcript

ALLEN BREED: Belgrade Nightclub owner, Dusko Milojevic, has lost two close friends to the coronavirus. One was his same age.

DUSKO MILOJEVIC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: So when the Serbian government offered him a vaccine, he didn't care that it was from China.

DUSKO MILOJEVIC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: While the United States and other Western nations have focused on vaccinating their own people, China has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccines to countries around the globe. And despite questions about their effectiveness and safety, people from Chile in Latin America to the African nation of Zimbabwe and Indonesia in China's own backyard are among those lining up to get the shots.

KRISHNA UDAYAKUMAR: We're seeing certainly real time vaccine diplomacy start to play out with China in the lead.

ALLEN BREED: The Associated Press has identified around four dozen countries that have either received or ordered at least one of the three Chinese developed COVID-19 vaccines. The ruling Communist Party says that this is vaccine cooperation, not vaccine diplomacy, and denies any ulterior motives.

HUA CHUNYING: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: But Udayakumar says Beijing is clearly exercising what is known as soft power by selling, or even donating, its vaccines to low and middle income nations.

KRISHNA UDAYAKUMAR: So when you're making diplomatic decisions in two or three years, you may have fond memories of who was there to help you in the middle of a crisis.

ALLEN BREED: In fact, China has shipped about 10 times more vaccine doses than it has administered at home. Efficacy rates for the Chinese vaccines lag behind Western shots like those from Pfizer or Moderna. But so far, there have been no reports of serious side effects. And that is enough for some leaders.

ANA BRNABIC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: Serbia was the first country in Europe to start inoculating its population with China's vaccines. The government says it has purchased just over 2.6 million doses so far, the majority from China. The European Union has strict rules about vaccines and has not approved the Chinese shots. Serbia has been trying to join the EU for decades. So the wide use of Chinese vaccines is a significant geopolitical victory in a region where the West, China, and Russia are all vying for political and economic influence. Ordinary Serbians like Milojevic just want protection from the virus.

- [INAUDIBLE].

ALLEN BREED: The pandemic struck in the spring, the busiest season for his nightclub.

DUSKO MILOJEVIC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: Milojevic is hopeful business will improve by summer. But he knows there are some things no vaccine can fix.

DUSKO MILOJEVIC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

ALLEN BREED: Al inbreed Associated Press.