A coronavirus vaccine candidate from China National Biotec Group seen during the 2020 China International Fair in Beijing, China, on September 5, 2020.
  • A state-owned Chinese company is giving away doses of its unproven Covid-19 vaccines to students going abroad, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • The distribution of two trial vaccines from China National Biotec Group (CNBG) is taking place outside clinical trials, the newspaper reported.
  • In July, China approved the two trial vaccines for emergency use on frontline medics, teachers, and customs officials.
  • Chinese companies have already given hundreds of thousands of people their vaccines outside clinical trials, The Journal reported.
  • Experts have warned that giving vaccines to people outside clinical trials is incredibly dangerous. 
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A state-owned Chinese company is giving away free shots of its unproven Covid-19 vaccines to students going abroad to study, according to The Wall Street Journal.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), part of the drugs giant Sinopharm, began offering inoculations of its two developmental vaccines — which are in the final stage of testing — in September, the Journal said.

Neither of the vaccines have been approved for general use, according to the Journal said. It said the application process made no mention that the vaccines were still in clinical trials.

Vaccines usually undergo several stages of formalized trials before being allowed for mass use. The trials are meant to ensure that the vaccine works, and also that it does not cause harmful side effects, which sometimes only occur in a tiny proportion of people and take time to emerge.

A woman preparing to move to the UK for a master's degree, identified as Chen, told the Journal that she was injected on Monday, having signed up in early October.

"I don't know about the effectiveness, but it looks safe at least as of now," she said.

Chen said that she was only made aware that the vaccine was still under development when she was asked to sign a consent form when she went to get injected.

A health worker takes a swab from a resident for a coronavirus test in Qingdao, China, on October 12, 2020.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that CNBG was currently in talks with the Chinese government about giving trial vaccines to departing students, but that no approval had been given.

The outlet also reported that the vaccine would be given to students for free, citing a note on the company's website.

China has been giving out trial vaccines for months

CNBG has been giving out its trial vaccines for several months, after China approved its two vaccines for emergency use by people at high risk of infection, such as frontline medical and customs staff. 

At least 350,000 people have received a dose of the trial vaccines outside of clinical trials, CNBG chairman Yang Xiaoming said in September.

A number of prominent public-health officials in China have also said they were vaccinated with developmental vaccines, an effort to boost public confidence.

In September, Guizhen Wu, the top biosafety expert at China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state TV that she had been injected with a trial vaccine in April. 

"So far, among the people who who were vaccinated, no one has been sick with the disease," Wu said at the time. "No side effect occurred."

Yang, the chairman of CNBG, also said he had been given a trial vaccine, as did George Gao, the head of China's CDC.

'Reckless and dangerous'

Experts have highlighted how dangerous getting a shot of a trial vaccine can be.

"You're vaccinating people and you don't know if it's going to protect them," Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University told Reuters, describing China's as "very problematic."

Dr. Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University, told Voice of America: "It is reckless and dangerous to distribute a minimally tested vaccine about which nothing has been published."

Dr. Jennifer Huang Bouey, an epidemiologist with the RAND Corporation, also told the outlet that if people fall ill, it will damage public trust in vaccines.

"This practice can backfire if the rushed process causes a widespread distrust of the vaccine when fewer people are willing to take the vaccine," she said.

In the last six weeks, two major vaccine programs competing with China National Biotec Group — one run by AstraZeneca and the Oxford Vaccine Group, and another by Johnson & Johnson — were paused after participants fell ill during clinical trials.

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