China on Friday said it is joining Covax, an international effort co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute a vaccine against the coronavirus.
The decision to participate, after initially declining, makes China the most powerful country involved in the effort and could help expand the international market for its coronavirus vaccine candidates.
The United States last month said it would not join the alliance, sparking criticism from public health experts who said it represented a myopic view of a global effort and could hurt the U.S. if another country develops a vaccine first.
The Trump administration at the time said it did not want to “be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
China, where the coronavirus was first detected, has at least four vaccine candidates in clinical trials.
“Even when China is leading the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D and with ample production capacity, it still decided to join COVAX,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. “We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX.”
Global health agencies launched the Covax project to ensure poor and developing countries could get access to an eventual vaccine at the same rate as wealthy and developed nations.
Major backers of the project include Japan, Britain, Germany and the European Union.
Covax is co-led by the Gavi vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO.
The project aims to distribute an eventual vaccine candidate to countries around the world based on the number of high-risk residents in each nation.
The United States has already signed deals with a handful of manufacturers guaranteeing delivery of hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine if it proves safe and effective.
Other countries have signed similar distribution deals, including Britain, France and Germany.