TAIPEI: Provincial governments across China are placing orders for domestically made experimental coronavirus vaccines, although health officials have not said how well they are working or how they can reach the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Developers are accelerating final testing, China’s foreign minister said at a UN meeting last week, when Britain approved the emergency use of vaccine candidate and provider Pfizer Inc. who rushed to arrange distribution.
Even without final approval, more than 1 million health care workers and others in China who are considered to be at high risk of infection have received the experimental vaccine with emergency use permits. There is no word yet about possible side effects.
China’s fledgling pharmaceutical industry has at least five vaccines from four manufacturers tested in more than a dozen countries including Russia, Egypt and Mexico. Health experts say even if they are successful, the certification process for the United States, Europe, Japan and other developed countries may be too complicated to use there. However, China said it would ensure the products were affordable to developing countries.
One of the developers, China National Pharmaceutical Group, known as Sinopharm, said in November it was applying for final market approval for its vaccine use in China. Others have been approved for emergency use in people considered to be at high risk of infection.
“We have to be ready for large-scale production,” said Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who has overseen many state responses, during Wednesday’s visit to the developer, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Sun visited a Sinopharm subsidiary in Beijing; Another producer, Sinovac, and a research laboratory under the National Medical Products Administration, the regulatory body that approves medical products for public use.
The government has not said how many people will be vaccinated. Sun said the plan calls for vaccinating border personnel and other high-risk populations this month.
The company uses more traditional techniques than Western developers.
They say unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be frozen at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), their vaccine can be stored at 2 to 8 C (36 to 46 F). The Chinese producer has not said how they will be distributed.
Health experts question why China is using experimental vaccines on a large scale now that the outbreak is largely contained within its borders.
Health officials previously said China would be able to produce 610 million doses by the end of this year and increase to 1 billion doses next year.
The provincial government of Jiangsu, where the main city of Nanjing is located, issued notification of vaccine procurement from Sinovac and Sinopharm on Wednesday for emergency use vaccinations.
Authorities in Sichuan province in the west, which has a population of about 85 million people, announced Monday that they had purchased a vaccine. An official newspaper in Anhui province, southeast of Beijing, said the local housing committee issued a notice asking if residents wanted a vaccine.
The Sichuan and Anhui announcements say the vaccine, which is given in two shots, will cost a total of 400 yuan ($ 60).
The vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm were approved for emergency use in July.
In October, Zhejiang province south of Shanghai offered public vaccination under an emergency use authorization. It said people deemed high risk would get priority.
In November, Communist Party secretary Sinopharm said nearly 1 million people had received the vaccine.
In September, the Sinovac CEO said about 3,000 of its employees had taken the vaccine. He said the company gave tens of thousands of doses to the Beijing city government.
The developer has not disclosed how effective their vaccine is and the possible side effects.
Sinopharm has clinical trials ongoing in 10 countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Argentina with nearly 60,000 volunteers. It has built two facilities in China capable of producing 200 million doses per year.
Sinovac has trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia. The most recent published data, a study in the science journal The Lancet, shows candidates produce lower levels of antibodies in people than those who recover from Covid-19. The company projects that it will be able to produce several hundred million doses of the vaccine by February or March next year.
Another producer, CanSino, is conducting testing in Russia, Pakistan and Mexico and pursuing partnerships in Latin American countries. The vaccine, which has been used in an emergency with the Chinese military, uses a harmless adenovirus to carry genes into human cells to generate an immune response.
A fourth company, Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy Co., is conducting final-stage trials across China.