China Prepares Large Introduction of Coronavirus Vaccines
Local governments across China are placing orders for experimental, Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines. Health officials, meanwhile, have not said how well they work or how many they may get to the country's 1.4 billion people.
Vaccine developers are speeding up final testing, China's foreign minister said during a United Nations meeting last week.
More than 1 million health care workers and others in China who are considered at high risk of infection have already received experimental vaccines under emergency use permission. Developers have not publicly discussed how effective their vaccines are. They have also not said if there are any side effects.
China's pharmaceutical industry has at least five vaccines from four producers being tested in more than 12 countries, including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.
Even if those tests are successful, the vaccines will probably not be used in the United States, Europe, Japan and other developed countries, health experts say. That's because the approval process is too complex for Chinese vaccine manufacturers.
China said it will take steps to make sure the vaccines have a low price for developing countries. It has actively been seeking sales agreements around the world.
On Sunday, 1.2 million doses of the Chinese company Sinovac's vaccine arrived in Indonesia, the government said.
"We are very grateful, thank God, the vaccine is now available so that we can immediately curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease," President Joko Widodo said.
Only one Chinese developer, Sinopharm, has asked for final market approval for its vaccine. It made the announcement in November. Other developers in China have had vaccines approved only for emergency use on people considered at high risk.
"We must be prepared for large-scale production," Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said during a visit last week to developers, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The government has not said how many people it plans to vaccinate. Sun said government plans to begin vaccinating high-risk populations this month.
The Chinese companies are using more traditional methods in their vaccine development than Western companies.
For example, the American company Pfizer's vaccine must be kept frozen at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius. The Chinese say their vaccine can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. The Chinese producers have not explained how their vaccine would be distributed.
Health experts question why China is using experimental vaccines in such large amounts now that COVID-19 is largely under control within its borders.
Chinese health officials have said the country will be able to manufacture 610 million doses by the end of this year. They said they will aim to make 1 billion doses next year.
The government of Jiangsu province released a request to buy vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm on Wednesday for emergency use. The large city of Nanjing is in the province.
Officials in the western province of Sichuan, which has about 85 million people, announced Monday they were already buying vaccines. They said the vaccine would cost a total of $60 and be given in two shots.
In November, the Communist Party secretary for Sinopharm said almost 1 million people had received its vaccine.
In September, the head of Sinovac said about 3,000 of its employees had taken the company's vaccine. He said Sinovac provided tens of thousands of doses to the Beijing city government.
I'm Susan Shand.