The World Health Organisation gave China its support and understanding to start administering experimental coronavirus vaccines to people while clinical trials were still underway, a Chinese health official said on Friday.
According to Zheng Zhongwei, a National Health Commission official, China launched its emergency programme in July, having communicated with the WHO in late June.
Zheng said hundreds of thousands essential workers and other limited groups of people considered at high risk of infection have been given the vaccine.
“Even though its efficacy and safety had not been fully established as Phase III clinical trials were incomplete.
“At end-June, China’s State Council approved a plan of COVID-19 vaccine emergency use programme.
“After the approval, on June 29, we made a communication with the relevant representatives of the WHO Office in China, and obtained support and understanding from WHO,” Zheng told a news conference.
However, WHO’s representative in China did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Recently, in Geneva, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that national regulatory authorities could approve use of medical products within their own jurisdictions in the current emergency situation, but described that as a “temporary solution”.
The long-term solution lay in completion of Phase 3 trials, the WHO official said.
Beijing has not publicly released full details of its emergency use programme.
At least three vaccination candidates, including two developed by state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG) and one from Sinovac Biotech, all in Phase 3 trials overseas, are included in the emergency use programme.
Meanwhile, a fourth experimental vaccine developed by CanSino Biologics was approved to be used in the Chinese military in June.