More than a million doses of untested Covid-19 vaccines have so far been administered in China to people most at risk of contracting the coronavirus, officials said on Saturday, weeks before a travel rush begins ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Even as governments in Europe, North America and elsewhere approve vaccines, China is still awaiting the results of clinical trials for its unproven homegrown candidates. In the meantime, the government has worked outside traditional testing protocol to inoculate government workers, teachers and hospital workers with three homegrown varieties.
Two of those vaccine candidates are made by Sinopharm; a third is made by Sinovac.
While experts have warned that the untested vaccines could pose safety hazards, Chinese officials said Saturday that so far, there had been no adverse reactions. More than 60,000 people who received the vaccines have traveled to high-risk areas overseas and have not come down with a serious infection, Zheng Zhongwei, a top official at China’s National Health Commission, told reporters in Beijing on Saturday.
“Research shows that there are no serious safety hazards,” Mr. Zheng said, speaking about the overseas trials.
Still, Chinese officials have said they are awaiting results from overseas trials for several leading vaccine candidates before starting distribution on a larger scale.
The government is under pressure to do just that. While the virus is largely under control in China, hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel domestically in the coming weeks for the Lunar New Year, which will be celebrated in February. The fear is that the mass travel could turn isolated Covid-19 clusters into much larger ones, as it did last winter.
In rolling out the untested coronavirus vaccines, the government said it is prioritizing health care professionals, pilots and others at an elevated risk for contracting the virus. People who work in the food import industry are also being given priority.
The government has pushed the idea, without evidence, that the virus has spread on a large scale in China from meat, seafood and other products imported from overseas.
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