Quest for coronavirus vaccine is the new ‘space race’. Will bragging rights go to China or the US?

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Credit: Picture Alliance/Geisler Fotopress/C. Hardt

The same day in mid-March that the United States launched human testing of its first experimental coronavirus vaccine, scientists in China announced their own trial would begin. Days after a company unveiled the partial data from the first U.S. human tests last month, a complete report of the Chinese trial was published in a prestigious medical journal.

[Editor’s note: The race to produce a vaccine sees China and the US engaged in a contest reminiscent of the space race that followed the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957.]

The nation that produces the first safe and effective vaccine will gain not only bragging rights but also a fast track to put its people back to work, a powerful public health tool to protect its citizens and a precious resource to reward allies. In an election year in the United States, the prospect of a successful vaccine by year’s end could also be a potent campaign tool.

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“The vaccine is partly about health, but it’s absolutely equally as much about getting our engine of productivity back,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law Center. “If China had it and we didn’t, their economy could hum, and ours would continue to be in social distancing lockdowns and disruptions. This has economic, political and public health consequences.”

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