Citizens in China are travelling hundreds of miles for a chance to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine.
As soon as Anny Ku heard of the shot available on offer she boarded a flight 600 miles away in Yiwu, a city in China’s eastern Zhejiang province.
Ku worked in Chile for more than 20 years as an importer and exporter, but she returned to her home in southern China earlier this year after the coronavirus pandemic began to worsen.
Ku believed she needed the shot in order to leave China and get back to her job overseas. “If one has it’s much safer to leave the country,” she said.
Yiwu is one of a small number of cities which in recent weeks have begun reportedly offering an experimental coronavirus vaccine to select members of the public, despite the drug still undergoing clinical trials. Jiaxing, another city in Zhejiang province, announced on October 15 it would sell vaccines to citizens with an “urgent” need.
“Citizens with urgent vaccination needs can go to the community clinic for consultation with the premise of voluntary and informed consent,” the Jiaxing Center for Disease Control posted to its official WeChat account on October 15. In Jiaxing the vaccine will cost about $60 for the required two doses once it is distributed, according to the statement.
Globally, there is currently no coronavirus vaccine which has been successfully tested and proven safe to use. As of October, four COVID-19 vaccine candidates designed by Chinese companies were in Phase 3 clinical trials, the final and most important step before regulatory approval can be sought for a drug.
Citizens from all over China were arriving in Yiwu and Jiaxing by train or plane in the hope of getting their hands on the experimental vaccine.
Other cities in Zhejiang are still announcing a rollout of vaccinations using the experimental drugs. On Tuesday, the city of Shaoxing said that “emergency vaccinations” would be given out in the autumn and winter, with the time and date yet to be announced.
Since the initial outbreak in December 2019, China has slowly brought its local coronavirus epidemic under control, through a combination of citywide lockdowns, mass testing and sophisticated track and trace tools.
Ahead of the approval the Chinese government has been moving forward with a series of vaccinations for people they consider at risk or in high-profile positions.
The apparent push to make the vaccine publicly available contrasts with other countries, including the United States, where drug makers and regulators have so far exercised caution.
In June, Beijing approved the use of the experimental vaccine by CanSino Biologics in the country’s military.
Three months later, the Chinese government approved the emergency use of the vaccine by the Chinese National Pharmaceutical Group, also known as Sinopharm, for medical professionals, diplomats in high-risk countries and state-owned company employees working overseas.
A large number of people have already been vaccinated. As of early October, Yang Xiaoming, the chairman of China National Biotec Group, which has two vaccines currently in Phase 3 trials, said their drug had been given to about 350,000 people so far in emergency doses authorized by the Chinese government. These vaccinations are not part of the ongoing drug trials.
The Yiwu and Jiaxing vaccine programs are not the first time an unapproved coronavirus vaccine has been offered to select members of the public in China. In early October, an offer was distributed online apparently by Sinopharm for a free vaccine for Chinese students heading overseas to study.
After being advertised for a few days however, the offers were pulled and it’s not clear whether or not any vaccines were actually provided.
Even though a large set of people have been fed the experimental shot, no special treatment is being given to them such as being allowed to travel without a mask.