China is offering employees of some large state-run companies the option of being inoculated with two coronavirus vaccines currently in development, showing how quickly the country is moving to test the viability of its homegrown shots.
Employees intending to travel overseas for work can volunteer to be administered vaccinations developed by China National Biotec Group Co. or CNBG, a subsidiary of Beijing-based Sinopharm Group Co., according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified as the offer hasn’t been made public. The proposal was relayed to state-owned companies by the government body that oversees them, the people said.Play Video
CNBG is among the Chinese companies bidding to create a successful vaccine against the new coronavirus. There are currently five Chinese vaccine candidates in the human trial stage, competing with products being developed by global pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. that can bring an end to the pandemic and allow countries to reopen more fully after economically-punishing lockdowns and travel curbs.
Beijing has mobilized its health authorities, drug regulators and research institutes to work around the clock with local companies to come up with the world’s first effective vaccine for Covid-19. If China is successful in the race, it would wield immense geopolitical clout. President Xi Jinping has promised to share any vaccine globally.
CNBG’s experimental shots have been tested on 2,000 people with no reported “obvious adverse effects,” Sinopharm Chairman Liu Jingzhen told local media last month. A CNBG spokeswoman said she was not aware of the vaccine offer and declined to comment further.
The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or SASAC, which oversees China’s government-run companies, didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg query.
If state-run company workers avail themselves of the vaccination, not only will they potentially be protected against the virus but their experience could help generate data on the shots’ efficacy in beating the pathogen that has sickened over 7.2 million people and killed more than 411,000 worldwide.
It isn’t yet known whether CNBG’s vaccines, which employ a dead strain of the novel coronavirus to elicit an immune response from the body, can prevent the infection.
The experimental vaccines are currently in Phase II trials and being evaluated for their safety on humans. Their ability to prevent infection of the virus will only be clear in Phase III trials — the final hurdle to clear for securing marketing approval — in which thousands of people take the shot to see how effective it is in an active outbreak environment.
With China’s cases dwindling to only a handful a day, the vaccines will need to be tested overseas where infections are still growing.
It’s uncertain how many employees of state-run firms have taken up the offer and whether they will be tracked for adverse reactions and their immune response. However, their exposure abroad may give an early view into the vaccines’ potential in places where the virus is not yet under control.
In addition to the ongoing clinical trial, Sinopharm’s Liu and hundreds of the company’s senior managers and employees have voluntarily taken the shots, according to Chinese news reports. CNBG is building factories that will enable the vaccine maker to churn out more than 200 million doses annually, it has said.
More must-read international coverage from Fortune:
- Asia’s CEOs share lessons on reopening and the post-pandemic business landscape
- To bail out or not: Governments decide whether to aid Asia’s embattled airlines
- Photos: In city squares and parks outside U.S. embassy buildings, Black Lives Matter protests go global
- Why the U.S. acts as an enforcer of the Hong Kong deal between Britain and Beijing
- WATCH: The global crisis in recycling
- Subscribe to Fortune’s Eastworld newsletter for expert insight on what’s dominating business in Asia.