The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been found to be more effective than Sinovac, produced in China. Photo: AFP / Ricardo Arduengo

A Chinese pharmaceutical company said Wednesday it had agreed to buy at least 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from German company BioNTech, subject to Beijing approving its use.

China has been rapidly developing its own Covid-19 vaccine candidates and ramping up production facilities, but local firms have also been partnering with foreign developers to supply the world’s most populous country.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group said its subsidiary had entered into an agreement with the German firm aimed at ensuring “an adequate supply” of vaccines in China, adding it will make an initial payment of 125 million euros (US$152 million) before year-end for 50 million doses.

Fosun Pharma said it would pay the remaining 125 million euros after receiving authorization to commercialize the German vaccine in mainland China.

The agreement did not detail when the remaining 50 million doses would arrive.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine has already been approved for emergency use in countries such as the US, the UK and Singapore.

Its vaccine is based on cutting-edge technology that uses synthetic versions of molecules called messenger RNA to hack into human cells, and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Beijing has five vaccines in the final stages of development, saying at least a million people were to receive a jab after vaccine candidates were approved for emergency use.

China has been signing agreements to supply millions of doses of Chinese-made vaccines to other countries after largely bringing the outbreak under control at home.

On Tuesday, health officials in one county of northern Heilongjiang province – where officials have been battling a small number of cases – said they would start offering Covid-19 vaccine doses to the general public.

The jabs wil cost 420 yuan ($64), but the statement did not clarify which vaccine was being offered.

Three of China’s five vaccine products that are in the final stages of development use an inactivated form of the novel coronavirus to boost immunity.

Fosun Pharma is majority-owned by Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate that owns France-based resort giant Club Med and travel firm Thomas Cook.