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China approves COVID-19 vaccine for military use, skips final phase of testing

Ad5-nCoV vaccine has also been approved for human testing in Canada

Thomson Reuters · Posted: Jun 29, 2020

China’s military has received the green light to use a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials proved it was safe and showed some efficacy, the company said on Monday.

The Ad5-nCoV is one of China’s eight vaccine candidates approved for human trials at home and abroad for the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The shot also won approval for human testing in Canada.

China’s Central Military Commission approved the use of the vaccine by the military on June 25 for a period of one year, CanSino said in a filing. The vaccine candidate was developed jointly by CanSino and a research institute at the Academy of Military Science.

“The Ad5-nCoV is currently limited to military use only and its use cannot be expanded to a broader vaccination range without the approval of the logistics support department,” CanSino said, referring to the Central Military Commission department which approved the military use of the vaccine.

CanSino declined to disclose whether the inoculation of the vaccine candidate is mandatory or optional, citing commercial secrets, in an email to Reuters.

People’s Liberation Army soldiers march next to the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing. China’s Central Military Commission approved the use of the vaccine by the military for a period of one year. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

The military approval follows China’s decision earlier this month to offer two other vaccine candidates to employees at state-owned firms travelling overseas.

The Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials of the CanSino’s vaccine candidate showed it has the potential to prevent diseases caused by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 500,000 people globally, but its commercial success cannot be guaranteed, the company said.

Phase 3, which tests a vaccine’s efficacy and safety on many thousands of people, is still to be completed. This step is usually considered the most important for wide spread approval, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Separately, AMS received an approval earlier this month to test its second experimental coronavirus vaccine in humans.

A defining summer

No vaccine has yet been approved for commercial use against the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but more than a dozen vaccines from more than 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans.

People on six continents already are getting jabs in the arm as the race for a vaccine enters a defining summer, with even bigger studies poised to prove if any shot really works — and maybe offer a reality check.

United Kingdom and Chinese researchers are already chasing the coronavirus beyond their borders, testing potential vaccines in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates because there are too few new infections at home to get clear answers.

The U.S. is set to open the largest trials — 30,000 people to test a government-created shot starting in July, followed about a month later with another 30,000 expected to test a U.K. one.

Those likely will be divided among Americans and volunteers in other countries such as Brazil or South Africa, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press.

While he’s optimistic, “we’ve been burned before,” Fauci said.

The Ad5-nCoV is one of China’s eight vaccine candidates approved for human trials at home and abroad. (Stringer/Reuters)

“This isn’t a race of who gets there first. This is get as many approved, safe and effective vaccines as you possibly can,” he said.

Vaccine experts say it’s time to set public expectations. Many scientists don’t expect a coronavirus vaccine to be nearly as protective as the measles shot.

If the best COVID-19 vaccine is only 50 per cent effective, “that’s still to me a great vaccine,” said Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania.

“We need to start having this conversation now,” so people won’t be surprised, he said.

And for all the government promises of stockpiling doses in hopes of starting vaccinations by year’s end, here’s the catch: Even if a shot pans out — and it’s one that your country stockpiled — only some high-risk people, such as essential workers, go to the front of a very long line.

“Will you and I get vaccinated this year? No way,” said Duke University health economist David Ridley

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