Chinese vaccines not striving to be first, respect for science most crucial: officials
Published: Dec 21, 2020 08:56 PM

Quality inspectors on Sinovac vaccine production lines use digital technology platforms to monitor the quality and efficiency of vaccine packaging on Sunday. Photos: Li Hao/GT

Chinese COVID-19 vaccines do not strive to be the first or the best, but that vaccine research and development should demonstrate a respect for science, health officials said Monday in response to concerns over China's vaccine R&D lagging behind in phase three trials. 

China's COVID-19 vaccine R&D started the earliest in the world, but slowed down in phase 3 trials partly due to factors such as the epidemic easing in some host countries, communication gaps overseas, and inexperience of some Chinese producers in global cooperation, health officials said at a press conference. 

"Communication with different trials partners took a lot of time. Also we found that in the process of working with overseas partners, some Chinese vaccine manufacturers have exposed the shortcomings of their inexperience in international cooperation," said Zheng Zhongwei, director of the Development Center for Medical Science and Technology of the National Health Commission (NHC).

Many industry insiders regard the export of the COVID-19 vaccine as a remarkable opportunity for Chinese vaccine companies to go abroad. Before this, the vast majority of Chinese vaccine manufacturers focused on satisfying the domestic market.

The core criteria for evaluating a vaccine include safety, efficacy, accessibility and affordability, not just speed, said Zheng, who heads China's COVID-19 vaccine development team. "So far, China's vaccines have been among global front-runners in various aspects, and the inactivated vaccine technology led mainly by China is relatively mature compared to mRNA types. 

As more countries, including the US, the UK, Japan and Russia, are eager to roll out mass vaccination programs to combat the deadly coronavirus, China stressed a rigorous and scientific path, despite more countries rushing to mass inoculation over new outbreaks that may get worse in winter.

As US pharmaceutical giants Pfitzer and Moderna released their phase three trial data, Western media questioned if China has slipped in the COVID-19 vaccine race on doubts over efficacy.

"China has 15 vaccines in clinical trials and five in phase III trials. We are leading in various standards. But we're not looking to be the fastest or the best. Respect for science comes first," according to Zheng.

China's COVID vaccines presented good indicators of efficacy in phase one and two clinical trials. More than 60,000 people receiving an injection have gone to high-risk areas outside China, and no infection has been reported so far, health authority said.

China is ready for mass production of the COVID-19 vaccines and will proceed with the official approval process as soon as possible after the release of phase III interim clinical data, health officials said at the press conference.

Chinese-developed vaccines can produce anti-bodies in two weeks. At least 70 percent of the population needs to be covered to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus, health officials said at the press conference Monday, appealing to the public to get vaccinated once they are approved.