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China is Giving Unproven Covid-19 Vaccines to Thousands of Essential Workers, With Risks Unknown

An employee answers questions from the public near samples of a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm subsidiary CNBG during a trade fair in Beijing on September 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

An employee answers questions from the public near samples of a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm subsidiary CNBG during a trade fair in Beijing on September 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The world still lacks a proven coronavirus vaccine, but that has not stopped Chinese officials from trying to inoculate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people outside the traditional testing process.

First, workers at state-owned companies got dosed. Then government officials and vaccine company staff. Up next: teachers, supermarket employees and people traveling to risky areas abroad.

The world still lacks a proven coronavirus vaccine, but that has not stopped Chinese officials from trying to inoculate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people outside the traditional testing process. Three vaccine candidates are being injected into workers whom the government considers essential, along with many others, including employees of the pharmaceutical firms themselves.

Officials are laying out plans to give shots to even more people, citing emergency use, amounting to a big wager that the vaccines will eventually prove to be safe and effective.

China’s rush has bewildered global experts. No other country has injected people with unproven vaccines outside the usual drug trial process to such a huge scale. The vaccine candidates are in Phase 3 trials, or the late stages of testing, which are mostly being conducted outside China. The people in those trials are closely tracked and monitored. It is not clear that China is taking those steps for everyone who is getting the shots within the country.

The unproven vaccines could have harmful side effects. Ineffective vaccines could lead to a false sense of security and encourage behavior that could lead to even more infections.

The wide use of vaccines also raises issues of consent, especially for employees of Chinese vaccine makers and state-owned companies who might feel pressure to roll up their sleeves. The companies have asked people taking the vaccines to sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from talking about it to the news media.

“My worry for the employees of the companies is it may be difficult for them to refuse,” said Dr. Kim Mulholland, a pediatrician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who has been involved in the oversight of many vaccine trials.

It is not clear how many people in China have received coronavirus vaccines. Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company with a vaccine candidate in late-stage trials, has said hundreds of thousands of people have received its shots. Sinovac, a Beijing-based company, said more than 10,000 people in Beijing had been injected with its vaccine.

Sui-Lee Wee c.2020 The New York Times Company


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