SHANGHAI - Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech has begun to administer a coronavirus vaccine to thousands of its staff as the race to secure an immunization for COVID-19 enters advanced clinical trials.
Some 3,000 employees and family members had been injected with the vaccine developed by the Nasdaq-listed company, according to the Sina Finance website and other reports quoting a Sinovac spokesperson on Sunday.
The move is seen as an approach to expand the number of trial samples in order to meet the company's target of obtaining a production license by the end of the year. It also serves to protect employees in case of a rebound of the epidemic in the coming winter, the company said.
China recorded the first outbreak of COVID-19 last December in a wholesale market in Wuhan and strict preventive measures including international travel bans have remained in place even as life has normalized.
Sinovac is one of the three Chinese companies conducting pre-production phase three clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine under a fast-track program approved by the government. Beside China, the trials are also taking place in countries that include Indonesia and Brazil.
The company, which is capable of producing 300 million doses of its CoronaVac vaccine, hopes to go into mass production by the end of the year.
Last month, Sinovac signed an agreement with Indonesia's PT Bio Farma, promising to supply 40 million doses of CoronaVac before March 2021. Sinovac will consider densely populated countries with huge outbreaks but with few research and development capabilities as its export markets, Sinovac's president Yin Weidong told a forum on Sunday.
China in July approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines involving military and front line health care workers. State-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm Group took the lead by offering free injections while ramping up production output of its COVID-19 vaccine to 300 million doses annually, from 200 million doses.
Sinopharm had reportedly said it hoped to commercialize its vaccines by the end of 2020, pricing them at less than 1,000 yuan ($147) for two doses.
Russia became the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine last month with a personal endorsement by President Vladimir Putin who gave it to his daughter even though the vaccine had not undergone Phase 3 clinical trials.
The U.K. medical journal The Lancet in a Sept. 4 report questioned the "safety and effectiveness" of vaccines without going through a standard trial process.
The World Health Organization had repeatedly warned that while a vaccine was vital in the fight against the coronavirus, it would not extinguish the pandemic completely and finding one would not be easy.