Provincial governments across China are placing orders for the domestically made and experimental coronavirus vaccines, though health experts are yet to say how effective they are or how they may reach the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Developers are accelerating the final testing, as reported by the Chinese foreign minister during a U.N. meeting last week, as Britain approves the emergency use of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine candidate and providers scrambled to set up distribution.
Even without a final approval, the experimental vaccines, permitted to be used in emergencies have been received by more than 1 million healthcare workers and others in China who are said to be at a high risk of infection. Any studies on the side effects have also not been revealed yet.
China’s fledgling pharmaceutical industry has at least five vaccines from four producers being 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 might be too complex for them to be used there. However, China said it will ensure the products are affordable for developing countries.
One developer, China National Pharmaceutical Group, known as Sinopharm, said in November it applied for final market approval for use of its vaccine in China. Others have been approved for emergency use on people deemed at high risk of infection.
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who has overseen much of the country’s response on the vaccines said during a visit to the developers on Wednesday that they must be prepared for bulk production, as reported by Xinhua News Agency.
Sun visited one of Sinopharm’s Beijing subsidiary companies; another producer, Sinovac, and a research lab under the National Medical Products Administration, a regulatory agency that approves medical products for public use.
The government is yet to reveal its plans on the number of people it has estimated to vaccinate. Sun said that they were aiming to vaccinate border personnel and other high-risk populations in the month of July.
The companies are using more traditional techniques than Western developers.
They say unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be kept 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). There are no talks on the distribution front of these vaccines by Chinese producers yet.
Health experts question why China is using experimental vaccines on such a vast scale now that the outbreak is largely under control within its borders.
According to previous statements by health officials, China will be able to manufacture 610 million doses by the end of this year and reach 1 billion doses the year after.
The government of Jiangsu province, where the major city of Nanjing is located, issued a procurement notice for vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm on Wednesday for emergency use vaccinations.