China has been giving experimental coronavirus vaccines to groups facing high infection risks since July, a health official told state media.
No vaccine has yet passed final, large-scale trials to prove it is safe and effective enough to protect people from contracting the virus that has led to almost 800,000 deaths worldwide.
The aim is to boost the immunity of specific groups of people, including medical workers and those who work at food markets and in the transportation and service sectors, Zheng Zhongwei, a National Health Commission official, told state TV in an interview aired late on Saturday.
Authorities could consider modestly expanding the emergency use programme to try to prevent possible outbreaks during the autumn and winter, added Zheng, who heads the Chinese government-led team that coordinates state resources for coronavirus vaccine development.
The guidelines for emergency use of potential coronavirus vaccines, approved on June 24 according to Zheng, have not been made public.
State media Global Times reported in June that China had been offering candidate coronavirus vaccines to employees at state-owned firms travelling overseas.
Some countries are sceptical about China’s use of experimental vaccines. Papua New Guinea has denied entry to Chinese nationals who participated in a coronavirus vaccine trial, according to the Australian newspaper.
China’s coronavirus vaccines will be priced close to cost, Zheng said.
“It does not mean that companies cannot make profits,” Zheng said. “Companies should decide on moderate profits, or reasonable profits based on costs.”
A potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) could cost no more than 1,000 yuan ($144) for two shots, Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen told state media last week.
“[The price] will definitely be lower than what Liu said,” Zheng said.
Similarly, China approves human testing for coronavirus vaccine grown in insect cells
China has approved human testing for a potential coronavirus vaccine cultivated within insect cells, local government in the southwestern city of Chengdu said on Saturday.
China is in a global race to develop cost-effective vaccines to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using insect cells to grow proteins for the coronavirus vaccine - a first in China - could speed up large-scale production, the city government of Chengdu said in a notice on social media WeChat.
The vaccine, developed by West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, has received approval from the National Medical Products Administration to enter a clinical trial, the notice said.
When tested on monkeys, the vaccine was shown to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections with no obvious side-effects, the notice added.
Chinese scientists are already leading work on at least eight other potential coronavirus vaccines that have entered different stages of clinical trials.
Foreign players, including Germany’s BioNTech (BNTX.O) and Inovio Pharma (INO.O) in the United States, have also cooperated with local firms to test their experimental vaccines in China.