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China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.


  • The vaccines from China and Russia are the first to reach low-income countries that likely won't have broad access to vaccines until 2023, according to some projections.

By the numbers: China has provided vaccines to 20 countries, including across South America and Africa, and has plans to send doses to at least 40 more, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement sent to the Wall Street Journal.

  • Poland is the latest European country to consider Chinese-made vaccines.
  • Chinese companies and government officials have worked with local partners to create cold-chain infrastructure in Ethiopia to help transport and distribute vaccines.
  • More than two dozen countries have authorized the use of Russia's Sputnik vaccine. Ten countries in Latin and South America have already received or will soon receive shipments, as have Slovakia, Hungary, and several other nations.

Details: China's vaccines weren't as effective in clinical trials as some of those made in the U.S. and Europe, but they don't require ultra-cold storage, making them easier to transport and distribute.

  • Last week, China approved two more vaccines, bringing the total number of Chinese-made vaccines to four. One of the newly approved vaccines only requires a single shot.

Between the lines: With reported daily COVID cases often in the single digits, China's leaders face less pressure to quickly vaccinate Chinese citizens.

  • Only about 40 million doses had been administered domestically as of Feb. 9, falling short of the 100 million doses Chinese authorities had promised by that time.
  • On March 1, top Chinese disease expert Zhong Nanshan said authorities are now aiming to vaccinate 40% of the population by June.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe are focusing on vaccinating their own citizens first.

  • The Biden administration has promised $4 billion in funding for COVAX, half of it available immediately — but has also said the U.S. will vaccinate Americans before sending doses abroad.
  • The European Union implemented limited vaccine export controls in late January, drawing criticism from the World Health Organization for "vaccine nationalism."

What to watch: The early dominance of China and Russia in the global vaccine roll-out is likely to be relatively short-lived.

  • As more U.S. and European-made vaccines are approved for manufacture, extra doses of western vaccines may soon greatly expand the global supply.

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