China is treating tens of thousands of its citizens with experimental coronavirus vaccines that have not had completed standard testing — raising concerns about safety.
In July, China launched a vaccine emergency use program offering three experimental shots developed by a unit of state pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.
The vaccines were aimed to protect essential workers, including those in the medical field, transportation industry and grocery store workers.
But now, China National Biotec Group — the Sinopharm unit developing two of the emergency use vaccines — and Sinovac Biotech have confirmed that at least tens of thousands of people have been jabbed with the untested inoculations.
Among those who received an early shot was the chief biosafety expert for the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“So far, among the people who were vaccinated, no one has been sick with the disease,” Guizhen Wu said on state TV this week, while also revealing she had received a vaccination in April.
“So far, [the vaccination scheme] works very well. No side effect occurred.”
A fourth COVID-19 vaccine being developed by CanSino Biologics was also approved for use by the Chinese military in June.
At least some of the vaccines would be ready for public use as early as November, Wu said.
Meanwhile, experts in Western countries have warned against green-lighting the emergency use of vaccines that have not completed testing due to a lack of knowledge about longer-term effectiveness and potential side effects.
Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University, called China’s emergency use program as “very problematic.”
“You’re vaccinating people and you don’t know if it’s going to protect them,” Durbin told Reuters.
Russia is among the few other countries to authorize the use of an experimental vaccine, making its own “Sputnik V” vaccine mandatory for certain groups, including teachers.
And this week, the United Arab Emirates authorized the emergency use of a Sinopharm vaccine, resulting in the first international emergency clearance for one of China’s vaccines.