China must overcome political considerations and look to importing Covid-19 shots to end the global pandemic, according to the CEO of the world’s last vaccine maker.
“They need to open up to Western healthcare and vaccines and put aside any political issues or anything that holds them back,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
China has seen a massive increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths after abruptly ending its zero-Covid policy, which imposed strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine upon arrival in the country.
China’s full vaccination rate against Covid is almost 87%, according to World Health Organization figures, which show 54% of the population has also been inoculated with a booster shot.
The main Covid vaccines approved for use in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm. These shots are less effective against the Omicron variant than other mRNA vaccines, including Pfizer and BioNTech, several studies have found.
Poonawalla said China’s 2020 pandemic response, which included building hospitals and infrastructure and taking precautions, showed Beijing could respond quickly.
He stressed China’s decision not to import vaccines from the United States, India and elsewhere, which have been “very effective.”
“I think they may have to look seriously at doing that now, at least as a booster, and taking vaccines that have demonstrated real-world data and efficacy,” he told CNBC. “Otherwise, the alternative is that a lot of people in China will continue to get infected and we’ll just wait – we wish them the best of luck in trying to manage this crisis and get out of it as quickly as possible.”
He added that this also represents a global problem, given the number of people who want to travel to China for business or leisure, as well as the number of Chinese nationals who will be traveling abroad.
“We really need to end the pandemic and the infection in all countries, because we all need to be safe,” Poonawalla said.
“They are [China] they are still deciding on the path they want to take and I hope it all ends quickly.”
The Pune-based Serum Institute of India produces more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccines annually for various diseases. Poonawalla said the company would be interested in providing vaccines to China, but that discussions with Beijing officials had so far been unsuccessful.
CNBC has reached out to a Chinese government representative for comment.