A staff member displays samples of a Covid-19 inactivated vaccine at Sinovac Biotech in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua/Facebook/Zhang Yuwei

Three Chinese-made vaccines purported to be safe and effective against Covid-19 have made their debut at a local trade fair, the first to be held for domestic and overseas traders in Beijing since the epidemic first erupted in the country in late December. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping will preside over an honor and award ceremony expected to formally unveil the vaccines at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday (September 8) morning.

The leader is expected to proclaim China’s victory against the virus at the event and commend scientists and researchers who have worked on vaccines, including the nation’s top pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Major General Chen Wei, who has led the military’s research.

The nation has gone 50 days without any local infections, although there has been a rise in imported cases. 

China National Biotech Group, a subsidiary of the state-owned conglomerate China National Pharmaceutical Group Co, Ltd. (SinoPharm) and the Nasdaq-listed Sinovac Biotech Ltd are showcasing at the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing their respective vaccines, both of which are nearing the end of their final, third-stage clinical trials.

Both are reportedly still pending regulatory approval for mass production. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing on February 10, 2020. Photo: Liu Bin / Xinhua via AFP / Getty

Xinhua and China News Service quoted the two drugmakers as saying that the three vaccines would be ready to hit the market by year’s end and annual production could be ratcheted up to 600 million doses, enough to inoculate roughly half of China’s population. 

SinoPharm’s Senior Vice-President for Sales Luo Linyun told reporters that one of the two vaccine candidates would be manufactured in Wuhan, the initial ground zero of the disease before it spread worldwide. 

For the final human trials, SinoPharm has recruited 50,000 participants and recovered patients from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Peru, Morocco and Argentina, among other locales, Luo said.

The trial has been purposefully conducted across a wide spectrum of races with possible exposure to different virus strains to ascertain the two vaccines’ safety and efficacy. Luo added that since the coronavirus had been largely “vanquished” in China, most of the trials have been conducted overseas in countries still grappling with Covid-19 outbreaks.     

He also confirmed previous media reports that Beijing has given “emergency jabs” to immigration officers and medical and essential workers since July to protect high-risk personnel. Their experiences have been monitored as part of third-stage human trials. 

SinoPharm’s two vaccines are reputedly effective against strains linked to June’s outbreak in Beijing, which hit a food wholesale market in the city, as well as infections reported in July in Urumqi, the capital of China’s far-west Xinjiang region. 

The two vaccines from SinoPharm made their high-profile debut at a trade fair being held in Beijing. Photos: Handout

Sinovac said that the final human trial for its vaccine is being conducted in Brazil and Indonesia, with an eye towards a year-end launch for the treatment. The Beijing-based drugmaker said the serum of its vaccine could neutralize over 20 strains of the virus, including those detected in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

The company claims it is not affiliated with any state-led program to develop a vaccine.

The Chinese military is also working to develop a vaccine, with human trials being conducted by a team from the PLA’s Military Sciences Academy. 

CanSinoBio, a Tianjin-based private pharmaceutical firm that has partnered with the PLA in the joint endeavor, has said that some Chinese troops had been vaccinated as early as June. 

Questions are already rising over how Beijing will allocate its vaccines if proven safe and effective. China has already pledged vaccine donations to a dozen or so countries across Southeast Asia and Africa as well as to Hong Kong and Macau. 

Hong Kong’s government confirmed on Sunday that it had already secured vaccine doses from the West and mainland China that would be equivalent to one-third of its 7.5 million population, with shipments and universal injections expected at the earliest by the end of the year. 

So far, Beijing has not made any guarantees about mass vaccination of the local population, despite state media ballyhooing the supposed progress in development, trial and scheduled production of the treatment. 

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