Almost a million people in China have taken an emergency Covid-19 vaccine that is still in its testing phase, the company that developed the vaccine has said.
Chinese authorities released the vaccine, developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), to select groups of people in July including Chinese government officials, students, and workers travelling overseas, before the vaccines had been proven to work.Letting Covid-19 circulate in hope of herd immunity ‘could make it more lethal’Read more
Sinopharm’s claims, made in an interview with chairman Liu Jingzhen posted on WeChat, did not specify which of its vaccines had been given, but said the individuals had travelled to more than 150 countries around the world and “there has not been a single case of infection after inoculation”.
“Only individual patients have had some mild symptoms,” he said.
Sinopharm’s two vaccine candidates are among five Chinese candidates undergoing international clinical trials because the domestic prevalence of the disease is so low. At least three – all inactivated vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac – have been approved for emergency use outside the clinical trials, and some local governments have reportedly allowed residents to take the Sinovac vaccine.
In September, the United Arab Emirates was the first country outside China to approve emergency use of Sinopharm’s vaccine.
The overseas trials have caused some controversy, in part because of a lack of communication from Chinese authorities. In August, 48 Chinese construction workers was barred from entry to Papua New Guinea over concerns they had been given an unnamed experimental vaccine.
More widely, however, the decision by countries like China and Russia to go ahead with vaccination programmes before completing full testing, including large scale Phase 3 trials, has been viewed with concern elsewhere.
Experts have warned that taking short cuts to internationally accepted approaches to testing and regulation could fuel a wider public mistrust over coronavirus vaccines and potentially reduce the uptake required for effective protection of populations.
China has promised to supply multiple countries with its vaccines, delivering potentially conflicting promises to prioritise places such as the Philippines and nations in Africa. Addressing the Apec conference on Thursday, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged closer international coordination on policies for development and distribution of a vaccine.
About a dozen vaccine candidates around the world are in the late stages of testing, and as the mass production of vaccines gets closer, governments have begun prioritising recipients.
Pfizer/BioNTech has already published interim data last week and final data this week showing its vaccine protects nearly 95% of people from getting sick. US company Moderna has shown similar results in interim data.
Alex Azar, the US health secretary, said this week Pfizer would seek an emergency use authorisation on Friday for its vaccine. Infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci said both Pfizer and Moderna had shown “extraordinarily impressive” efficacy, and the US government “will be getting vaccine doses into people at a high priority at the end of December”.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Oxford vaccine group has hosed down expectations that the 100m doses ordered by the UK will be ready by Christmas, saying it is not in competition with the other companies.
The UK’s order for 40m doses of the Pfizer vaccine may arrive sooner, but its 5m Moderna doses likely won’t arrive until early next year.