China may give students Covid-19 vaccines still under trial

China National Biotec Group, which has two Covid-19 vaccine shots in the final phase of testing, is said to be in talks with the Chinese government to inoculate students going abroad for studies.
China National Biotec Group, which has two Covid-19 vaccine shots in the final phase of testing, is said to be in talks with the Chinese government to inoculate students going abroad for studies.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • One of China's leading vaccine developers plans to inoculate students going abroad with Covid-19 shots that have yet to get regulatory approval, said people familiar with the matter, as the country pushes scientific boundaries in the race for a viable vaccine.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a subsidiary of state-owned Sinopharm Group, is in talks with the government about giving students headed abroad for studies its experimental vaccines, according to the people, who asked not to be identified.

The two shots being developed by CNBG - which are in the final, third phase of testing - were authorised for emergency use in China and have been administered to hundreds of thousands of people, including medical workers and employees of state-owned firms working in high-risk countries. Students would represent an unprecedented expansion in the use of vaccines that have not completed full human testing, though the Chinese regulator can determine that the group can come under the remit of emergency use.

"While obviously very important to the families and students involved, studying abroad is not an emergency - no lives are at threat here," Professor Nigel McMillan, director of the infectious diseases and immunology programme at Griffith University's Menzies Health Institute Queensland, said.

Student concern about leaving China - where the pathogen has been nearly eradicated through aggressive containment measures - for foreign countries, where Covid-19 is still spreading rapidly, prompted the discussions, the people said. Infections in the United States and Europe are re-surging.

CNBG appears to be gauging interest among the public for its vaccine candidates, with a link on its website letting people apply to get a shot. More than 154,000 people had registered, and a notice said students going overseas could get the vaccines for free.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2020, with the headline 'China may give students vaccines still under trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe