BEIJING • China is offering coronavirus vaccines under development to workers at state-owned companies in Beijing as the capital city experiences the nation’s worst flare-up since the initial outbreak in Wuhan late last year.
The government had earlier offered shots developed by China National Biotec Group, or CNBG, to state-run companies’ workers travelling overseas, Bloomberg had reported last week.
It is now expanding that programme to those companies’ employees living in Beijing districts under alert, or working in high-risk areas such as airports, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified as the offer has not been made public.
The expanded voluntary inoculation might offer solace to workers facing growing risk as a potential second wave emerges in Beijing. It will also put to test CNBG’s experimental shots amid a global race to find a successful vaccine to halt the deadly pathogen.
The new cluster, which emerged last week at Beijing’s largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market, has grown to more than 150 infections since, and spread to at least four other Chinese provinces.
The state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which oversees China’s government-run companies, did not respond to a Bloomberg query. CNBG did not reply to calls and a WeChat message seeking comment.
Besides being potentially protected against the virus, those volunteering will also help generate data on the shots’ efficacy against the pathogen that has sickened more than 8.3 million people and killed over 448,000 worldwide.
It is not yet known whether CNBG’s vaccines, which employ a dead strain of the coronavirus to elicit an immune response from the body, can prevent the infection.
CNBG said that one of the two experimental shots has been found to be generally safe and able to generate neutralising antibodies, which could latch onto the virus to prevent it from invading cells.
Number of people who have had Covid-19 worldwide
Number of people who have been killed by the virus
Their ability to prevent infection will only be known in phase III trials – the final hurdle to clear for securing marketing approval – in which thousands of people take the shot to see how effective it is in an active outbreak environment.
Chinese vaccine developers had previously been concerned that they could not effectively conduct phase III trials within the country as cases had seemingly dwindled nationwide. But if the resurgence of infections in Beijing is not brought under control, it could prompt researchers to consider the possibility of trials at home.
It is not known how many employees of state-run firms travelling overseas or those in Beijing have taken up the vaccine offer, and whether they will be tracked for adverse reactions and their immune response.