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COVID Vaccine Narrative Battles Intensify Following Pfizer Announcement

A headline on the Chinese state-run CGTN Africa website that emphasized "equal distribution" of COVID-19 vaccines.

A narrative battle over COVID-19 vaccines is emerging in the aftermath of this week’s announcement by Pfizer that its vaccine is reportedly 90% effective. That news also coincided with an interruption of a Chinese-made COVID vaccine clinical in Brazil that was sparked by “serious adverse event.”

While Brazilian health authorities confirmed later that whatever happened was unrelated to the Chinese vaccine, that nonetheless did little to stop an outbreak of negative commentary and coverage about Chinese vaccines around the world.

Now, the Chinese appear to be pushing back on the Pfizer story by emphasizing the importance of “equitable distribution.” The main issue here is that Pfizer’s vaccine reportedly requires a cold chain that keeps the vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius before use — which would be very expensive and complicated — putting it out of reach for many developing countries.

The Chinese vaccines currently under development reportedly do not need to be kept at such cold temperatures and would therefore be easier to distribute in poorer, warmer countries that often lack cold chain infrastructure.

More importantly, the “equitable distribution” phrasing also reinforces President Xi Jinping’s May 2020 commitment that any future Chinese vaccine would be made available as a “global public good.”

As vaccines get closer to final approval and ready for distribution, it’s safe to assume that the geopolitical narrative battle that we’re now starting to see will further intensify.

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