China is rapidly increasing the number of people receiving its experimental coronavirus vaccines, with a city offering one to the general public and a biotech company providing another free to students going abroad.
The city of Jiaxing, south of Shanghai, is offering a vaccine under development by Sinovac, it said in an announcement Thursday. It said high-risk groups, including people who are “responsible for the basic operations of the city” will receive priority, but that residents who have emergency needs can also sign up.
The vaccine is in the final stage of clinical testing, but has not yet been approved. The city government said it is being provided under an emergency authorization.
China National Biotech Group, another Chinese vaccine company, is offering its vaccine free to students who study abroad in a strategy health experts say raises safety and ethical concerns.
More than 168,000 people signed up to receive the vaccine via an online survey and more than 91,000 are being considered, CNBG said on its website. That page had been removed by Tuesday.
Chinese drug companies have five vaccines in final stages of testing but none is approved for public use. They are part of a global race to develop a vaccine that, if successful, offers the fledgling Chinese industry the potential for prestige and worldwide sales.
Top Chinese health officials have promised a vaccine for the general public before the end of this year.
CNBG’s vaccine has already been given to medical workers and employees of Chinese companies being sent abroad under an emergency authorization for people in high-risk categories. It has given the vaccine to 350,000 people outside its clinical trials, a company executive said in September. The trials have about 40,000 people enrolled.
“Currently, it seems Chinese students going abroad have a strong desire to take the vaccine,” a CNBG employee was quoted as saying by a state-owned newspaper, the Paper, based on the survey results in September.
Students in China who are due to start their semesters abroad say they want the vaccine because they are worried about getting sick.
“It’s very dangerous over there, the town we study in, it’s a red danger zone,” said a student who goes to school in Poland and gave only her surname, Ouyang. She signed up for the CNBG vaccine in September but hasn’t heard back yet. “We all really want this vaccine.”
A student who is due to go to Britain said she signed up via the online link after classmates said they received the vaccine. – CNBC