China is considering a potential emergency approval of BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine to make it available to foreigners living in the country, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sierk Poetting said.
Government-level discussions are still at an early stage and BioNTech hasn’t been involved yet, Poetting said on the sidelines of a conference in Singapore November 14. The company has submitted all the data necessary to Chinese authorities for its discretion, he said, adding there hasn’t been a timetable for a potential approval yet.
“How exactly this will work out we don’t know yet,” said Poetting. “We’re in the process of working on this. So this might be the very first step.”
Poetting’s comments echo that of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who earlier in November said Chinese leaders will make the shot from BioNTech, in a partnership with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., available for foreign nationals in China. After three years of stringent border controls, there are recent signs that the world’s second largest economy is planning to ease its zero tolerance of the virus, including a shortened mandatory quarantine period for inbound travelers and the removal of a system that penalizes airlines for bringing in infected passengers.
Officials have also placed more emphasis on vaccination in recent statements, raising the prospect that China will emulate the route that countries like Singapore and South Korea took to reopen, which would require more widespread vaccination especially among its resistant elderly.
If the vaccine is even conditionally approved, it would be the first time a Western-developed COVID shot has been endorsed in China. Fosun Pharma already supplies the inoculation to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, while BioNTech is working with Pfizer Inc. outside greater China.
Though the vast majority of the country’s population has already been vaccinated, Chinese authorities have relied on locally developed shots like those from state-backed Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Studies have shown that two doses of Sinovac offers less protection than mRNA vaccines — like BioNTech’s one — in preventing severe infections or death.
A limited approval of the vaccine in China could also help ease some pressure on BioNTech, which said some deliveries of the shot it sells with Pfizer have shifted into next year as demand has waned, raising concerns about the company’s future revenue for its only marketed product.
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