China starts vaccinating key workers against COVID-19; report

China has already granted emergency use authorisation to multiple COVID-19 vaccines developed by domestic drugmakers and started dosing key workers, according to local media reports.

Zheng Zhongwei, head of China’s COVID-19 vaccine development task force, made the revelation on Chinese television, saying that the vaccines were being used in people at high-risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, including front-line medical staff, according to the China Daily news service.

Around 20,000 people have been vaccinated since emergency use was approved in July, focusing on healthcare workers and border control staff, and the plan is to scale up the programme before the winter to include other groups like those working in the transport and food industry, he said.

The identity of the shots cleared for emergency use isn’t yet clear. Several Chinese companies have started clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine candidates, and three shots based on inactivated SARS-CoV-2 from Sinovac and Sinopharm are heading for phase 3 testing, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest update on vaccine progress.

Another adenovirus-based vaccine from CanSino Biologics is also in late-stage development and has been approved for use in military personnel, according to the South China Morning Post.

Meanwhile, candidates from Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG) subsidiary are also heading for phase 3 trials outside China – namely in Peru, Morocco, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and most recently Argentina – after getting approvals to start testing by regulators.

Faced with dwindling numbers of COVID-19 cases in China, CNBG is starting up studies of its inactivated vaccines overseas where outbreaks of the virus are still in full swing. China has gone several days without a locally-transmitted case of the infection.

One has been developed in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, while the other is partnered with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products. Both have cleared phase 1/2 trials which according to Sinopharm showed they were safe and generated “high-titre” antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2.

China has said that it will prioritise access for countries from Africa, Latin America and the Mekong region – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – when the vaccine is ready to be rolled out overseas.

Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, said over the weekend that he believes it is unlikely that a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available before winter 2021.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times has reported that the Trump administration is considering fast-tracking emergency-use approval of the ChAdOx1 adenoviral vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for use in the US ahead of the upcoming presidential election, after being slammed for his handling of the crisis.

That has been denied by the Department of Health and Human Services, but the pandemic continues to be a focus for political wrangling ahead of the election.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted a bizarre accusation that the FDA was deliberately holding up the development of vaccines and drugs for COVID-19 for political reasons.

FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn didn’t choose to respond to that assertion, which came in the build-up to the emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 yesterday.

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