10/29/2020 / By Franz Walker
Chinese authorities have stated that they are justified in giving experimental Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to thousands of people outside of clinical trials. They state that this is because of the risk of the deadly disease returning through its borders and the lack of significant side effects from the vaccines.
Three locally developed vaccines by China National Biotec Group and Sinovac Biotech received emergency authorization from Beijing back in July. Back then, the approval was for them to be given to frontline workers, such as medicals staff treating COVID-19 patients and border officials.
Since then, however, this has been widened to include employees of state-owned companies, with the government also mulling offering the vaccines to students heading overseas to study.
Meanwhile, Sinovac, whose CoronaVac vaccine candidate entered final-stage clinical trials three months ago, is now allowing members of the public in at least two Chinese cities to receive vaccinations.
Despite claiming to have all-but-eliminated the coronavirus, China is still seeing “enormous pressure” from cases abroad said Zheng Zhongwei, the director in charge of COVID-19 vaccine development at the National Health Commission, at a Beijing briefing on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
This, according to officials, is part of the reason that Beijing has given the okay to use the vaccines on a limited basis even though their clinical trials are not yet complete.
According to Zheng, those who take part in the emergency-use program are tracked for any adverse reactions to the shots. He claimed that so far, no serious responses to the vaccines beyond low-grade fevers and rashes have been reported.
He also claimed that China’s emergency-use parameters were approved only after rigorous deliberation among vaccine and ethics experts, and were done with the backing of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Zheng and other officials, however, did not provide any details of how people who receive the vaccines under the emergency-use program are being monitored.
The vaccine development process usually takes years. The pressure of the coronavirus pandemic, however, has forced governments, universities and pharmaceutical companies to compress those into just mere months.
China, in particular, has been doing its best to rush its vaccines to market. As the origin of the pandemic, the country’s leadership is facing internal pressure to appear as if they have the lead in controlling and, eventually, eliminating the deadly virus.
Since mid-August, new cases in China have remained below 100 a day, with the most recent being in the eastern port city of Qingdao. Authorities have managed to stamp out new clusters, including an outbreak in Beijing in June, through mass testing campaigns that screen millions of citizens within days.
Beyond these, however, word has come out that Chinese authorities have also been turning to questionable measures to deflate coronavirus numbers. These include hiding actual caseloads and even silencing those who dare to speak up about the pandemic or criticize the government’s response. (Related: Northeastern China has more cases of the coronavirus than officially reported.)
These and more are worrying experts that China may be applying the same methods to get their vaccines out the door.
Adding to the worry is that Sinovac, one of the companies developing a vaccine, has seemingly taken the lead in development. This is despite its small size and, more importantly, lack of earnings.
In response to these worries, representatives for both Sinovac and China National Biotec’s parent, Sinopharm have stated that there had been no reports of participants in their ongoing phase III vaccine trials experiencing serious adverse reactions. In addition, they emphasized that they’ve enrolled more than 50,000 people worldwide in the tests.
Follow Pandemic.news for more on how China is taking advantage of the coronavirus to further its own goals.
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