July 15, 2021

ICYMI: Risch to Power: COVAX Buying Chinese Vaccines is Ironic, Strange

Watch full exchange here .

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday questioned United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on the irony of China profiting from selling it’s sub-par vaccines to COVAX after refusing to donate money or vaccines to the global vaccine initiative. A transcription of their full interaction can be found below:

Risch:Thank you, Mr. Chairman

“I was just astounded the other day when COVAX said they were going to buy the China vaccines. I assume you saw that release. Have you discussed that with the other people at COVAX?”

Power:Yes, senator.”

Risch:Do they appreciate the irony of this? Where you know China started this and refused to participate in COVAX, won’t contribute money, won’t contribute vaccines, but then COVAX is turning around and actually paying them for their vaccines. This is odd – strange to say the least.”

Power:If I may just make a couple points here. First of all, it is appalling that Beijing chose to make a profit on those vaccines rather than to contribute financially to COVAX, or to donate its state-owned doses to COVAX to reach people in their hour of desperate need. There is no other way around it – it is appalling.

“From the standpoint of COVAX, and why that transaction went forward. It is the case, as you know senator, that the supply for this third quarter of this year is not available, fundamentally. And the Delta variant is raging because, as I indicated earlier, India pulled back the Serum Institute of India doses that COVAX had expected to provide, for example, second shots and to reach healthcare workers. Hundreds of millions of doses that COVAX had expected to be able to distribute never arrived. The U.S., as you know, through Pfizer, is moving to address the supply issue but that won’t really kick in until August and into the later part of this year – and even that will only scratch the surface in terms of the global need. So, I think what you’re looking at is a raging pandemic, a supply challenge that the U.S. and Europe will be addressing, and you’ll see other pharmaceutical companies also have their drugs probably licensed toward the end of this year. But, in that hour of relative desperation, it felt it needed to bring vaccines online as quickly as possible. Particularly again to get those second shots and those healthcare workers reached. That is no excuse for what China did, in that context.”

Risch:I appreciate that. From your position at COVAX, what are you finding as far as the other countries acceptance of the Chinese vaccines? Here in the U.S., we see even slight ineffectiveness is greeted with real distain. And, as we read about what is going on with the Chinese vaccines, it seems to be pretty low quality compared to what we’re producing. What is happening there? What are countries saying about getting the Chinese vaccines?”

Power:Well as you know different studies have yielded different research findings as it relates to a number of the vaccines on the global market including the two Chinese vaccines in question. It was licensed to be used. And, again, because it’s not a question of COVAX between Sinovac and Sinopharm and Moderna, I think it’s obvious what the choice would be if that were the choice, it’s choosing one of these Chinese vaccines or not having supply in this period. And so, I think and just to come back to the chairman’s point, you know across our hemisphere and around the world, people’s very strong preference appears to be for U.S.-manufactured vaccines. Particularly mRNA vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer. So, once that supply becomes available, I think it’s going to be a very clear choice. Let me leave it at that.

“Wait, actually, let me just say one more thing if I could, sorry, which is to the branding point of COVAX because I think this is implicate about what you were saying and the chairman raised it. When COVAX doses are donated, because of the generosity of the American taxpayer, because of the generosity of the U.S. government, those are branded with the American flag. Those are not branded just simply as COVAX, as an international organization. Our ambassadors are there to meet the planes when they land. We are very aware of what China is using its vaccines and people’s desperation to extract. And, we are also intent on we don’t ask for anything in return, unlike our Chinese counterparts. But we are intent certainly on making it known when it is our vaccines that are arriving of the higher quality that we know them to be.”

Risch:Thank you, Ms. Power.”