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Chinese drug maker offers experimental Covid-19 vaccines to students heading overseas

Chinese drug maker

A Chinese drugmaker is offering its experimental Covid-19 shots to students heading overseas to study, even though the vaccines are still in clinical trials, according to mainland media reports.

State-owned China National Biotec Group, or CNBG, says it will provide its two inactivated vaccine candidates for free to such students, without giving any age restrictions, according to financial news site China Star Market. Students can register their interest online and they will be given the shots in Beijing or Wuhan.

The two experimental vaccines are in the final stage of human trials but they were approved for emergency use in July by China’s drug regulator, the National Medical Products Administration. Although the World Health Organization supported that move, there have been concerns about using a vaccine that has not completed clinical trials.

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As of September, more than 350,000 people in China had been given the experimental shots outside the clinical trials and none had shown severe side effects, according to a report by state-run Science and Technology Daily last month. That included tens of thousands of people who were given the shots before they went overseas, none of whom had been infected with the coronavirus, the report said.

The pandemic has largely been brought under control in China, as other countries continue to grapple with the virus that has killed more than a million people worldwide.

CNBG could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The drug maker has set up a page on its website where people can register their interest for the two experimental vaccines. Those willing to be vaccinated are asked to provide details including their date of birth and the city where they want to receive the shot, and to select their occupation from a list of jobs that appear to be in the emergency use category: health care workers; disease prevention and control, customs and border control staff, and people who have contact with foreigners; essential workers; overseas students; and “others”.

Once the form is submitted, the user is directed to a page saying CNBG is offering free inoculations for students who are studying overseas. People who have been vaccinated under the emergency use programme have told the South China Morning Post that their employers paid for the shots.

“The China National Pharmaceutical Group [parent company of] CNBG cares about the health and safety of students who study overseas and will provide free inoculation for those students,” the website reads. “Following the principle of informed and voluntary consent, we are working hard, with care and affection, to do things well.”

By Tuesday morning, nearly 760,000 people had expressed interest in receiving one of the experimental shots, and 155,000 had registered to get vaccinated, according to the site.

Social media posts from students claiming they had been through the process said they had to provide proof that they were going overseas for their studies, such as an airline ticket or an offer from a school or university.

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