Development of Chinese COVID-19 vaccine revealed in documentary
Published: Jan 26, 2021 07:03 PM

Researchers work in CNBG labs in Wuhan (left) and Shanghai. Photos: Courtesy of CNBG

Researchers work in CNBG labs in Wuhan (left) and Shanghai. Photos: Courtesy of CNBG

Two production lines, 60 days and 2 billion yuan ($309.4 million) - all these numbers mark the path the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine took to make its debut. 

The vaccine has been a hot topic as China has vaccinated more than 15 million people as of Wednesday. Now there is a documentary revealing the process behind the vaccine developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG) to allow audiences to learn more about the effort it took to bring it to the people. 

The 8-minute documentary was filmed over six months, an employee of CNBG told the Global Times. Seven employees with Sinopharm's subsidiary CNBG are the main focus of the short film as they talk about their role in fighting the COVID-19 virus and how they made full use of every minute to save lives.

When the vaccine research saw some progress in July 2020, the company decided to produce a video to summarize the fight against the COVID-19 virus.

The seven researchers accepted interviews while in the thick of things and worked with the production team to co-create the documentary, which debuted on January 8.

A vaccine is born

Samples of the virus actually were collected before the large-scale outbreak in China. Back when CNBG sent researchers to clarify the cause of the disease in December 2019, they had no idea what impact the virus would have on the world. 

"During the filming and interviews, I felt that these researchers' sights were focused further than us. They were considering the future and realized how important production of a vaccine would be," a member of the production team of the documentary told the Global Times. 

Two teams from the company - one in Beijing and the other in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province - began to test and produce the vaccine at the same time with a budget of 2 billion yuan to ensure efficiency and supply.

Most of the scenes of manufacturing the vaccines in the documentary are from the Wuhan plants. 

The company's inactivated COVID-19 vaccine began to be researched in the P4 and P3 laboratory in Wuhan Institute of Virology, GAS, which has the highest level of bio-safety protection in China, the employee said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

Researchers had to wear two layers of protective clothing, a helmet, an N95 mask and two layers of surgical gloves while in the lab, and breathe only through a long tube that was connected to the ceiling.

Sometimes they needed to stay in the lab for several hours straight. Zhao Yuxiu, a member of CNBG Beijing Institute of Biological Products, said she was not able to head home to see her child at night and could only read the child's messages after leaving the lab in the early mornings.

Once she came out of the lab at 4 am and saw a message that broke her heart. 

"You have not seen me for three months. I don't want a mother like you," her child wrote. 

But the need to develop vaccines was too urgent, so Zhao had to stay on the front-lines of research.

During research and development, many researchers' only wish was to sleep for an hour. Through their endeavors, the inactivated COVID-19 vaccine was successfully developed in less than three months in Wuhan.

Fight against the epidemic  

Before developing the vaccine, using plasma of those who had recovered from the virus was one method of treatment for critical patients proven by CNBG researchers. The documentary did not forget these people's contributions nor those of others.

Many ordinary people in Wuhan recovering from the virus donated their plasma when they learned it could help other infected people.

Lu Fengping, head nurse of the SARS-CoV-2 convalescent patient plasma collection Team at CNBG, told the director of the documentary that one man wanted to donate his plasma as his mother was infected and in intensive care, but his physical fitness did not meet with standards, so he left and tried his best to reach those standards. 

Finally, the man made it and was allowed to donate plasma. As his blood was drawn, he told medical workers that his mother had passed away and yet he still wanted to donate since he did not want any other families to experience his misery.

A total of 400 bags of plasma were donated to critical patients, saving more than 1,000 lives.

Researchers now face a new challenge - a variant of the COVID-19 virus from overseas has spread to China. They have started a new journey to sustain Phase III clinical trials of vaccines.
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