TAIPEI, Taiwan – Provincial governments across China are ordering experimental, domestically made coronavirus vaccines, although health officials still don’t know how well they work or how to reach the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Developers are accelerating the final tests, the Chinese foreign minister said during a meeting in the United States last week as the UK approved the emergency use of the vaccine candidate and Pfizer Inc. provider to set up distribution.
Even without final approval, more than 1 million healthcare workers and others in China who are at high risk of infection have received experimental vaccines with emergency approval. There was not a word about possible side effects.
China’s fledgling pharmaceutical industry has at least five vaccines from four manufacturers that are being tested in more than a dozen countries, including Russia, Egypt and Mexico. Health professionals say, even if successful, the certification process for the US, Europe, Japan, and other developed countries may be too complex to apply there. However, China said it will make sure the products are affordable for developing countries.
A developer, the China National Pharmaceutical Group, known as Sinopharm, said in November that it had filed for final marketing approval for its vaccine to be used in China. Others have been approved for use in emergencies in people who are at high risk of infection.
“We need to be prepared for large-scale production,” said Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who oversaw much of the country’s reactions when he visited developers on Wednesday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Sun visited one of Sinopharm’s Beijing subsidiaries. Another manufacturer, Sinovac, and a research laboratory from the National Medical Products Administration, a regulatory agency that approves medical devices for public use.
The government has yet to say how many people it will vaccinate. According to the Sun, border guards and other high-risk populations will be vaccinated this month.
Companies use more traditional techniques than western developers.
They say Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be kept frozen at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. The Chinese producers have not yet said how they could be driven out.
Health experts wonder why China is using experimental vaccines on such a large scale, given that the outbreak is largely under control within its borders.
Health officials previously said China will produce 610 million cans by the end of this year and can jump to 1 billion cans next year.
The government of Jiangsu Province, where the city of Nanjing is located, issued a procurement notice for Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines for emergency vaccinations on Wednesday.
Authorities in western Sichuan province, home to around 85 million people, announced Monday that they are already buying vaccines. An official newspaper in Anhui Province, southeast of Beijing, said a local housing committee posted a notice asking if residents wanted a vaccine.
The announcements from Sichuan and Anhui said the vaccine would cost a total of 400 yuan ($ 60) in two shots.
Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines were approved for emergency use in July.
In October, Zhejiang Province, south of Shanghai, offered public vaccination with an emergency permit. It was said that people at high risk would have priority.
In November, the Communist Party secretary for Sinopharm said nearly 1 million people had received the vaccine.
In September, Sinovac’s CEO announced that around 3,000 of its employees had taken their vaccine. He said the company had provided tens of thousands of cans to the Beijing city government.
Developers have yet to disclose how effective their vaccines are and what side effects they may experience.
Sinopharm has conducted clinical studies in 10 countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Argentina with nearly 60,000 volunteers. Two plants have been built in China that can produce 200 million cans a year.
Sinovac has trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia. The latest published data, a study in the science journal Lancet, showed that his candidate produced lower levels of antibodies in humans than those who recovered from COVID-19. The company estimates it can produce a few hundred million doses of the vaccine by February or March next year.
Another manufacturer, CanSino, is testing in Russia, Pakistan and Mexico and has partnerships in Latin American countries. His vaccine, used in an emergency by the Chinese military, uses a harmless adenovirus to transport genes into human cells and generate an immune response.
A fourth company, Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy Co., is conducting final stage trials across China.