US, China in 'medical arms race' over coronavirus vaccine

WION New Delhi May 18, 2020, 08.34 PM(IST) Edited By: Palki Sharma

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

With big money and global influence at stake, the United States and China are freely funding scientists even as labs are working on cures and vaccines

Amid the coronavirus epidemic, China and the United States are engaged in a a "medical arms race" with each side intent on finding the coronavirus vaccine.

Also Read: US biotech firm Moderna reports 'positive interim' phase 1 results for vaccine

With big money and global influence at stake, the United States and China are freely funding scientists even as labs are working on cures and vaccines.

In their quest for power these two countries could end up deciding who would get it first. US President Trump announced recently that by January America will have the vaccine and he has a "big and fast" plan to get the vaccine to those who need it.

"Today I want to update you on the next stage of this momentous medical initiative. it's called operation warp speed, that means big and it means fast," the US president announced, adding, "a massive scientific, industrial and logistical endeavor, unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project."

"You really could say that nobody's seen anything like we're doing, whether it's ventilators or testing. Nobody's seen anything like we're doing now within our country since the World War-II."

"Incredible. It's objective is to finish developing and then to manufacture and distribute a proven coronavirus vaccine as fast as possible, again, we'd love to see if we could do it prior to the end of the year. We think we're going to have some very good results coming out very quickly," Trump said.

The US presient is fighting the pandemic in a way that he knows best by writing cheques and its virtually a bank cheque. The US biomedical advanced research and development authority(BARDA) is spending big. The government agency has announced nearly $1 billion in support for coronavirus vaccine development.

In March, the American lawmakers had approved more than $8 billion dollars for coronavirus response wit over $ 3 billion set side for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

The United States started its vaccine hunt with around 100 candidates, its now down to 14 and, if there is something that works better - anywhere in the world  - America will find a way to create room in the budget and buy its way in.

Already, the United States is funding one project in France. The money is going to Sanof - a private vaccine company. One of their vaccine projects is being partly funded by BARDA. Sanofi's CEO had triggered a row saying that America would be first in line to get the vaccine supplies. The company has now backtracked on that promise.

China is writing blank cheques too. It has five candidates in human trials and it wants to test more. China wants to get there first. It sees the race as a matter of national pride. A commentator in the state-run Global Times said it is a matter of life and death.

"We must be aware that the development of a vaccine is a battle that China cannot afford to lose," the Global Times piece said. Beijing agrees even after creating the crisis, it is funding the vaccine. However, China's approach is a little different its military is involved in developing the vaccine. The scientists are working overtime as Presient Xi Jinping made a commitment to the world today that China will give the world a vaccine.

Clearly, the Dragon wants to play savior. China wants to emerge stronger out of the COVID-19 crisis. So, its accelerating its research and positioning itself into the role of a "rescuer" while using the state media to pan the American efforts for the vaccine.