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Coming soon: vaccines made in China

BEIJING -- The world should get ready for a new Made in China product -- vaccines.

China's vaccine makers are gearing up to push exports over the next few years in a move that should lower costs of lifesaving immunizations for the world's poor and provide major new competition for the big Western pharmaceutical companies.

It may take some time, however, before some parts of the world are ready to embrace Chinese products in the sensitive issue of safety in vaccines -- especially given the food, drug and other scandals the country has seen.

Still, China's entry into this market will be a "game changer," said Nina Schwalbe, head of policy at the GAVI Alliance, which buys vaccines for 50 million children a year worldwide. "We are really enthusiastic about the potential entry of Chinese vaccine manufacturers."

China's vaccine-making prowess captured world attention in 2009 when one of its companies developed the first effective vaccine against swine flu -- in just 87 days -- as the new virus swept the globe. In the past, new vaccine developments had usually been won by the United States and Europe.

Then in March, the World Health Organization announced that China's drug safety authority meets international standards for vaccine regulation.

But more needs to be done to build confidence in Chinese vaccines overseas, said Helen Yang of Sinovac, the Nasdaq-listed Chinese biotech firm that rapidly developed H1N1.

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Yanzhong Huang, a China health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "In the U.S., we have supporting institutions such as the market economy, democracy, media monitoring, civil society, as well as a well-developed business ethics code . . . all still pretty much absent in China."

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