China will have 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines ready for market this year and will make “a major announcement” soon, a scientist in charge of vaccine development said on Friday.
Wang Junzhi, from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and also deputy head of an expert task force on vaccine development under the State Council, made the remarks at a briefing in Wuhan.
“Regarding the development of Covid-19 vaccines, there will be a major news announcement in the coming one to two weeks. It’s at the final stage now,” Wang said.
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“As planned, there will be 600 million doses of inactivated vaccines ready for market launch this year.”
Inactivated vaccines use a conventional technique that involves killing off the virus in a lab and using it to trigger an immune response. Two such vaccines developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG) and a third by Sinovac Biotech are in the final stage of clinical trials in South America, the Middle East and Asia but the drug makers have yet to release any of the phase 3 data needed for full regulatory approval.
The companies have already built the required high-level biosafety facilities and scaled up production.
Wang said China had the technology and standards in place to produce vaccines in such facilities, adding “that’s why our inactivated vaccines are leading the world”.
The US vaccine initiative, Operation Warp Speed, does not include the inactivated technique because of safety concerns.
Sinovac has already shipped more than 1.12 million doses of its vaccine to Brazil, where it is conducting a phase 3 trial, ahead of its interim data being reviewed before it can be approved.
In India, the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, also started mass-producing a vaccine developed by Oxford University-AstraZeneca before it was approved or proven to be effective.
Wang did not give details of the 600 million doses, but previous media reports have said the two facilities under CNBG could supply 100 million doses this year with potential for 300 million by expanding existing capacity. Sinovac could also reportedly supply 100 million doses of its vaccine this year.
Two other vaccines developed in China – by CanSino and Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical – are also in the final stage of human trials and the companies have said they could produce 100 million to 300 million doses this year, depending on demand.
The CNBG and Sinovac vaccines were authorised for emergency use at the end of July, and they have already been given to about 1 million Chinese deemed high-risk – including people working in health care, those in contact with overseas arrivals and essential workers.
Several provinces have started the procurement process for these vaccines, including Zhejiang, Sichuan and Jiangsu.
While the Chinese vaccine makers have yet to reveal data, a vaccine developed by US company Pfizer and German firm BioNTech and another by US drug maker Moderna have shown high efficacy in their phase 3 trials.
Britain on Wednesday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use starting next week, and it is expected to be approved in the United States and Europe in the coming week. Pfizer aims to provide 50 million doses globally this year. Moderna meanwhile said it expected to have between 100 million and 125 million doses of its experimental vaccine available globally in the first quarter of 2021.
Wang’s remarks came after Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, who is in charge of health in China, on Wednesday visited a vaccine maker under CNBG, as well as Sinovac, and the national agency that oversees vaccines in Beijing.
She told the drug makers they should “scientifically and rigorously” advance their phase 3 trials and “be prepared” for mass production of vaccines. She said vaccination of all high-risk groups should be completed by the end of the year.
China’s drug regulator issued guidelines in August requiring Covid-19 vaccines to be at least 50 per cent effective, but preferably higher than 70 per cent, and they should provide immunity for at least six months – data that is provided during phase 3 trials.
CNBG data could be released “soon”, its parent company China National Pharmaceutical Group said on Saturday, while Sinovac is also expected to make an announcement on its phase 3 trial imminently. A Sinovac spokesman said no further details could be provided when reached for comment on Friday.
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