New Delhi: China is claiming that they are the first nation to roll out an experimental coronavirus vaccine for public use, saying it began inoculating high-risk groups in late July. For those keeping score, that would put Beijing’s civilian rollout three weeks earlier than Russia’s, with neither vaccine having yet passed standard clinical trials. Beijing health officials said Saturday they began dosing some medical workers and state-owned enterprise employees with an experimental covid-19 vaccine in late July under “urgent use” protocols.
Officials around the world have been debating how far they should suspend ordinary drug-development protocols to get covid-19 vaccines and treatments to market. Many governments declared early on that they would not cut corners in developing a vaccine, but they are proving amenable in practice to corner-cutting as the pandemic’s human and economic tolls mount. The Beijing announcement followed a diplomatic controversy last week, in which Papua New Guinea said it had turned back a group of Chinese miners who had received an experimental coronavirus vaccine.
The standard approval process for a new vaccine takes years and requires the observation of large numbers of patients over time to ensure safety and efficacy. The United States and China have both pledged to bring vaccines to market by the end of this year or early 2021, an unprecedented speed that requires gargantuan factory investments before the vaccines have passed safety tests. Now Beijing and Moscow have pushed the timeline up further, with large numbers of citizens essentially being asked to serve as test subjects as an act of patriotism.
On Chinese state TV on Saturday, Zheng Zhongwei, head of China’s coronavirus vaccine development program, said that “urgent use” of Sinopharm trial vaccines were launched on July 22, with initial use for medical workers and some state-owned enterprises. This came a month after China’s military began inoculating troops with an experimental vaccine.