Almost all the employees of a Chinese drug company and their families have been given its experimental coronavirus vaccine, the firm said on Sunday.
The CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech, is currently undergoing phase three clinical trials.
Company spokesman Liu Peicheng confirmed that the around 3,000 employees and families had been offered the drug on a voluntary basis under China’s emergency use scheme.
Sinovac’s coronavirus vaccine production line, which has an annual output capacity of more than 300 million doses, started operations at the end of last month.
The vaccine’s entry into the mass market is subject to the results of the latest trials but the company’s chief executive Yin Weidong said he expected its use to be approved as soon as the end of the year.
In July, China approved the emergency use of vaccines for specific groups who were deemed to be at high risk of exposure, including medical personnel and border officials.
Beijing was the first city in China to start the emergency use programme and tens of thousands of people – including workers at the Xinfadi food market, which was at the centre of the capital’s last major outbreak in June – have been given the Sinovac vaccine.
“It will also prevent repeated epidemics in the coming autumn and winter seasons,” Yin told the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing.
“If there is one person infected in this venue, it will affect hundreds of people. The strong control strategy in China needs to be improved, and improvement needs to rely on vaccines.
“The pricing [of the vaccine] is unknown at the moment, but not as high as people expect, it should be an acceptable price for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Zhang Yinan, deputy general marketing manager at China National Biotec Group (CNBG), also said that she had been given her company’s vaccine.
“After animal testing, I’m willing to try the company’s product to see if it’s safe and effective, and there are 150 employees like me who have been inoculated,” she said at the trade fair.
Sinovac and CNBG are currently carrying out large-scale trials abroad as they race to get their vaccines onto the market.
CNBG is expected to complete its phase three clinical trial, which has seen more than 35,000 people given the vaccine in the United Arab Emirates, in November.
“The UAE has a purchase intent [agreement] with CNBG and we can’t disclose the exact figure, nor the pricing”, Zhang said.
Sinovac says it has received orders from a number of countries and is currently conducting phase three trials in Turkey, Bangladesh, Brazil and Indonesia.
In late August, Sinovac and PT Bio Farma, a state-owned Indonesian pharmaceutical company, signed a preliminary agreement for the purchase and supply of CoronaVac, which Liu described as the “largest publicly reported order to date for a Chinese vaccine company”.
The agreement provides for the supply of 40 million doses of semi-finished CoronaVac products between November and March, with further sales likely throughout next year. Bio Farma will package the vaccines and supply them to customers in Indonesia.
Sinovac has urged the authorities in different countries to ensure the vaccine can be registered more quickly.
“For example, if the study we did in Brazil is accepted by other countries in South America, the vaccine can be registered and we can supply it to more countries.” Yin said.
“We call on more countries to accept the results of our current clinical studies and approve a safe and effective vaccine for marketing as soon as possible. Of course, the biggest market for vaccines, the biggest demand, and the biggest challenges, are all in China.”
Sinovac claimed that no serious adverse reactions have been observed in the phase three clinical trials, indicating that the vaccine is safe. “The adverse reactions observed were mainly local pain at the injection site, followed by fatigue and weakness, and local swelling, all of which were transient,” Liu said, “Only very few have fever and allergic reactions.”
Last month both Sinovac and CNBG warned consumers not to fall for online scams in which advertisers are offering Covid-19 vaccines for sale.
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