China is vaccinating tens of thousands of its citizens with experimental coronavirus vaccines despite expert concerns about the safety of drugs that have not completed standard testing.
In July, China unveiled an emergency vaccine use program offering three experimental shots developed by the state pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and the US-listed Sinovac Biotech unit. In June the Chinese military approved a fourth COVID-19 vaccine being produced by CanSino Biologics for use.
Aimed to protect essential workers and minimize the risk of further outbreaks, the vaccine is also drawing global attention as governments scramble to secure supplies.
China has not released official data on the uptake in targeted domestic groups including workers in the medical, transportation and food sectors. But data suggests that at least tens of thousands of people were immunized.
The communist country has engaged a top-down public approach to endorse the experimental vaccines and encourage community support. The chief executives of Sinovac and Sinopharm and the military research leader were among the first to be administered the vaccination.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s chief biosafety specialist has confirmed this week that she too was vaccinated in April as she declared the possibility that at least some of the vaccines will be ready for public use as early as November as no side effects have been observed on whom it was administered.
China’s strategy stands in contrast to that of many Western countries, where experts including WHO (World Health Organization) warned against allowing the emergency use of vaccines that have not been completely tested, citing a total lack of understanding of its effectiveness and possible side effects in the longer term.
Last week, vaccine safety came to a sharp focus when AstraZeneca Plc suspended clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine, one of the most advanced in development. After receiving the green light from safety watchdogs, the firm resumed British trials over the weekend. They have also, along with other leading Western vaccine makers, promised to follow scientific research standards and oppose any political pressure to hurry the procedure.
Russia is one of the few other countries to permit the use of an experimental vaccine, “Sputnik V.” India is considering vaccine emergency authorization, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk places of work.
Vaccine approval in UAE
This week the UAE approved the emergency use of a Sinopharm vaccine, the first international emergency clearance for one of China’s vaccines, just six weeks after human trials started in the Gulf Arab state. During the trials, UAE officials reported mild and predicted side effects but nothing severe.