China joins global vaccine alliance backed by World Health Organization

China, which has at least four coronavirus vaccine candidates in the last stage of clinical trials, said Friday it is joining the Covid-19 vaccine alliance known as COVAX.

The country signed an agreement with Gavi, the co-leader of the alliance, on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Initially, China did not agree to join the alliance, missing the deadline to join in September.

“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

The terms of the agreement and how China will contribute are not yet clear. The country’s leader Xi Jinping previously said that China would make the vaccine a global public good.

China is late to sign up to the COVAX alliance having initially missed the September deadline.Mark Schiefelbein / AP

The World Health Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The alliance is designed so that richer countries agree to buy into potential vaccines and help finance access for poorer ones, but critical questions remain about how its goal will be carried out. An early problem the alliance faced was that many richer countries directly negotiated their own deals with pharmaceutical companies and some declined to join.

Download the NBC News app for the latest news on the coronavirus

The United States, the world’s largest economy, declined to join. China is the second-largest.

The alliance plans to buy 2 billion doses of a vaccine by the end of 2021, although it remains unknown whether the successful vaccine will require one or two doses.