Ku has worked in Chile for more than 20 years as an importer and exporter, but returned home to southern China earlier this year after the coronavirus pandemic worsened and large numbers cases have appeared in South America.
There had been no official announcement that a vaccine was available in Yiwu – just a series of articles in the local media – but Ku believed she needed the vaccine to leave China and return to her job in abroad. “If you have (the vaccine) it is much safer to leave the country,” she said.
Yiwu is one of the few cities that in recent weeks have reportedly started offering an experimental coronavirus vaccine to some members of the public, although the drug is still in clinical trials. Jiaxing, another city in Zhejiang province, announced on October 15 that it would sell vaccines to citizens in “urgent” need.
“Citizens with urgent vaccination needs can come to the community clinic for consultation with the principle of voluntary and informed consent,” the Jiaxing Center for Disease Control posted on its official WeChat account on October 15. In Jiaxing, the vaccine will cost around $ 60 for the required two doses once it’s distributed, according to the statement.
When CNN visited the Yiwu hospital where Ku had visited on October 19, staff confirmed that over the past week they had administered experimental coronavirus vaccinations to citizens in urgent need of travel abroad. However, no one CNN spoke to had received the vaccine.
The Yiwu government has yet to make a public statement on the release of the experimental vaccines. CNN has reached out to them for comment.
Authorities in Jiaxing and Yiwu have not explicitly explained what constitutes an “urgent” need for an experimental vaccine, what evidence is needed to show that you need a vaccine, or why these cities in Zhejiang have been allowed to. distribute emergency doses rather than large metropolises such as Beijing or Shanghai.
An article in the public tabloid Global Times denied on Tuesday that Covid-19 vaccines were available to the public.
However, this did not stop some ordinary citizens from arriving in Yiwu and Jiaxing by train or plane in the hope of getting their hands on the experimental vaccine.
Other cities in Zhejiang are still announcing a deployment of vaccinations using the experimental drugs. On Tuesday, Shaoxing City said “emergency vaccinations” would be distributed in the fall and winter, with a time and date yet to be announced.
Since the initial outbreak of December 2019, China has slowly brought its local coronavirus outbreak under control, thanks to a combination of city-wide lockdowns, mass testing, and sophisticated tracking and tracing tools.
Now Beijing is at the forefront of a global effort to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, with Chinese President Xi Jinping repeatedly urging scientists in the country to speed up their work. On October 20, Tian Baoguo, an official with the Ministry of Science and Technology, said 60,000 people had been injected as part of the drug trials and that no serious side effects had been recorded.
“At present, vaccine research and development in China generally occupies a leading position,” he said.
But before any vaccine was approved, the Chinese government moved forward with a series of vaccinations for people it considers at risk or in high-level positions.
The apparent push to make the vaccine publicly available contrasts with other countries, including the United States, where drugmakers and regulators have so far been cautious.
In June, Beijing approved CanSino Biologics’ use of the experimental vaccine in the country’s military.
Three months later, the Chinese government approved the emergency use of the vaccine by the Chinese national pharmaceutical group, also known as Sinopharm, for medical professionals, diplomats in high-risk countries and employees of public enterprises working abroad.
A large number of people have already been vaccinated. In early October, Yang Xiaoming, chairman of the China National Biotec Group, which currently owns two phase 3 vaccines, said their drug has been administered to around 350,000 people so far at emergency doses authorized by the Chinese government. . These vaccinations are not part of ongoing drug trials.
University of Hong Kong virologist Dr Jin Dong-yan told CNN it was “risky” to advance vaccinations before the drug was fully tested and cleared.
“In the history of vaccine development, there are many examples that show that even if the vaccine has passed Phase 3 trials, there could be problems,” Jin said. None of the experimental vaccines have yet passed phase 3.
Yiwu and Jiaxing’s vaccination programs not the first time an unapproved coronavirus vaccine has been offered to some members of the public in China. In early October, an offer was apparently distributed online by Sinopharm for a free vaccine for Chinese students going abroad to study.
After being advertised for a few days, the offers were withdrawn and it is not clear if any vaccines were actually provided.
Mino Guo was one of the students who signed up for the vaccine while living in her hometown of Guangdong in the south of the country because she wanted to resume her studies in the United States in November.
“The situation in the United States is a bit serious. I am not very worried, but my family and friends around me are worried about my life there. This is why I think it is necessary to get the vaccine, to make my family feel safe, ”she says.
Guo said she was a little worried about the effect the vaccine might have on her, but ultimately never received it.
So far, no special treatment has been given in China to people who have received the experimental coronavirus vaccine, such as being able to travel without a mask.