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People in one country are already being given coronavirus vaccines

Published Jun 22nd, 2020 1:35PM EDT
Coronavirus Vaccine
Image: Ng Han Guan/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus vaccine candidates have been quietly offered to workers in Beijing in response to the new COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The shots are developed by China National Biotec Group, which has two experimental coronavirus treatments in the works, including a vaccine drug that cleared Phase 2 testing with success.
  • Authorities in Beijing have reported 236 new cases on Monday out of 2.3 million tests performed since the first case in the latest outbreak was discovered.

China is reportedly offering some of its novel coronavirus vaccine candidates to workers in Beijing in response to the new COVID-19 outbreak, its most serious flareup since the epidemic first began in Wuhan. Less than two weeks ago, a new COVID-19 case was discovered in Beijing, which told authorities that the virus was spreading in the capital. Authorities started applying several restrictive measures but did not go into full lockdown mode for the capital. Instead, only certain areas were closed off, with traffic subject to temperature checks. Separately, Chinese authorities started a massive testing campaign to detect other infections, and a major food market was closed. Other activities including school, sports, and entertainment, were quickly halted, as several new cases were detected.

The country has five vaccine candidates in advanced testing, and some of them already proved they can generate the neutralizing antibodies that block the virus from infecting healthy cells. These drugs are being readied for Phase 3 trials, which may include international cohorts of volunteers. But some Beijing workers already have access to experimental drugs in the wake of the new outbreak.

According to a Bloomberg report last week, the government had already offered shots developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG) to state employees traveling overseas. The program now extends to workers living in Beijing districts that are currently under alert, and to people who work in high-risk areas like airports. The program is a secret, as the offer hasn’t been made public. At the time of the report, there were 175 confirmed cases in Beijing’s latest outbreak.

China did hint before that it might use vaccine candidates this year before Phase 3 research is completed. Providing immunization to some groups in Beijing might make sense, as it would allow CNBG to study the effectiveness of the drugs in a Chinese region where there might be enough cases to test the vaccine. One of the problems China is facing when it comes to vaccine research is the fact that COVID-19 is already so well contained in most of the country.

With a population of more than 20 million, the Beijing outbreak could be a severe problem from China, but officials in the capital seem to suggest they have the outbreak under control. They expect Beijing to see a “cliff-like” drop in new cases by the end of the week, according to Reuters.

“If you control the source, and cut the chain of transmission, the number will have a cliff-like drop,” National Health Commission disease control expert Wu Hao told state television. The official said the capital was not headed for a “flood-like” lockdown as it was the case for Wuhan, as the country is now trying more targeted tactics.

As of Monday, four Beijing neighborhoods have been designed as high-risk, while 39 are deemed medium risk. Since June 11th, Beijing officials reported 236 new cases out of 2.3 million tests. It’s unclear. The accuracy of China’s reporting of COVID-19 was often questioned. Most recently, China said it tested 10 million people in Wuhan and found only 300 asymptomatic carriers who were not contagious and who were not added to the total count. It’s unclear how many asymptomatics were found in Beijing if any.

CNBG happens to be working on two distinct coronavirus vaccines, one of which just cleared Phase 2 with promising effects. Phase 3 will be conducted abroad, the company said a few days ago. It’s unclear what CNBG drug has been offered to Beijing workers.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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