China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), one of several Chinese firms developing coronavirus vaccines, said it may have the capacity to produce more than 1 billion doses in 2021, Chairman Liu Jingzhen said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
About 60,000 people have received Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidates during Phase III clinical trials, with no serious side effects reported so far, Tian Baoguo, an official at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, said at the same government media briefing.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of people in China have been given experimental trial-stage vaccines as part of an emergency inoculation programme launched in July.
Last week, China National Biotec Group Co, part of Sinopharm which has two vaccines in development, was offering them free to Chinese students, the Wall Street Journal reported. A company website said 481,613 people had taken the vaccine while an additional 93,653 had applied to be inoculated as of Monday.
State media reported that Sinopharm was offering its vaccines for students in Beijing and Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December. Those planning to travel abroad between November and January 2021 were eligible, Guardian reported.
However, after several days the site appeared to have been shut down with a notice that it was “under maintenance” while conflicting reports sowed confusion. Students in Wuhan told state media that they had been told programme had been suspended.
Bloomberg also reported that Sinopharm was in talks with the Chinese government on a plan to inoculate students.
China is among the countries leading the global race for a Covid-19 vaccine, with four treatments in the final phases of clinical trials. Health authorities have said a vaccine will be available in China as early as November or December.
Under a vaccine emergency programme started in July, tens of thousands of volunteers have received experimental vaccines, prompting questions about risks of administering untested treatments on the public.
Under the programme China is offering three experimental shots developed by a unit of state pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group and US-listed Sinovac Biotech. A fourth vaccine being developed by CanSino Biologics was approved for use by the Chinese military in June.