China Allows Some Volunteers to Receive Covid-19 Vaccines After Only Phase 2 Trials

(p. B1) The offer to employees at the state-owned oil giant was compelling: Be among the first in China to take a coronavirus vaccine.

The employees at PetroChina could use one of two vaccines “for emergency use” to protect themselves when working overseas as part of China’s ambitious infrastructure program, according to a copy of the notice, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

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(p. B6) Such “emergency use” is rare, and the taking of unapproved vaccines is typically reserved for health care professionals. Although the government has stressed that taking the vaccine is voluntary, the state-owned workers and soldiers could feel pressure to participate.

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Along with the testing at the oil company, Sinopharm, which has completed Phase 2 trials for two products, has injected the vaccine into its chairman and other senior officials, according to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or SASAC, the government agency managing all employees at state-backed companies. The Chinese government has allowed the CanSino-military vaccine to be given to its armed forces, a first for the military of any country.

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“If you are a regulatory body, if you play by the rules, if you are hard-nosed about it, you say this is very wrong,” said Ray Yip, the former head of the Gates Foundation in China.

Dr. Yip added that it would be useful for company executives to know that they had given the dose to “a couple of thousand people, but no one has dropped dead, so that’s pretty good.”

Dr. Yip said the people taking the vaccines should read up on reports of the safety data and make an informed decision. He said he would be willing to take it.

“If you offer that to me saying it’s safe and there’s an 85 percent chance that it works, would I take it today?” he said. “You know what, I probably will. Because then I don’t have to worry.”

In a post on its official WeChat account, a government agency reported that the “vaccine pretest” on Sinopharm employees showed that antibody levels were high enough in subjects to combat the coronavirus, indicating that it was safe and effective.

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In June [2020], Sinopharm began the third phase of clinical trials in Beijing, Wuhan and Abu Dhabi, becoming the first company to enter the final regulatory stage. China’s Sinovac Biotech is teaming up with Instituto Butantan in Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest case count after the United States.

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Dimas Tadeu Covas, the director of Butantan, said that he was impressed with Sinovac’s preliminary results and that the vaccine “has the greatest potential for success.” He cited results from Sinovac’s Phase 1 trials that showed no adverse effects and Phase 2 trials that showed 90 percent protection against Sars-Cov2.

“I know vaccines, and I am betting a lot on this one,” Dr. Covas said.

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee and Mariana Simões. “China Skirts Convention For Vaccines.” The New York Times (Friday, July 17, 2020): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 17, 2020, and has the title “In Coronavirus Vaccine Race, China Strays From the Official Paths.”)

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