In Brief

China started giving experimental COVID-19 vaccine to medical workers in July

A doctor holding a vaccine vial and syringe.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

China has been giving doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate to "high risk" groups, including medical personnel, since late July, even though the clinical trials of the vaccine that would show whether it works have not been completed, according to news reports.

Over the weekend, Chinese health officials said the country had approved the emergency use of the vaccine, developed by the Beijing-based drug company Sinopharm, on July 22, according to CNN. Medical workers, customs and border officials and others at high risk of COVID-19 exposure are eligible to receive the vaccine, CNN reported.

Officials added that they hope to expand the use of this vaccine to other essential workers in the fall and winter.

Related: Coronavirus outbreak: Live updates

"Once we build up an immune barrier for medical staff, personnel involved in basic operation of the city, such as those in the farmers market, transportation, and in some service industries" might receive the vaccine, said Zheng Zhongwei, director of the Science and Technology Development Center of China's National Health Commission, according to CNN.

The announcement follows the news from mid-August that Russia approved its COVID-19 vaccine for use in certain groups, including medical workers, Live Science previously reported.

China has already approved a different vaccine candidate, developed, in part, by the Tianjin, China-based company CanSino Biologics, for use in military personnel. Doses of that vaccine have been given to military personnel since June.  

However, no COVID-19 vaccine candidates have completed phase 3 clinical trials. Only phase 3 trials, which often include tens of thousands of people, can determine whether a vaccine actually prevents COVID-19 infection, Live Science previously reported. Such trials are a critical step in vaccine development, and longstanding U.S. regulations would require a completed phase 3 trial before a COVID-19 vaccine could be approved here. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that a COVID-19 vaccine should reduce the chances of infection by at least 50%, compared with a placebo.

Originally published on Live Science.  

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.