The Chinese military has approved a COVID-19 vaccine following studies that show it is safe and has some efficacy, according to Reuters. A research unit of the Chinese military developed the vaccine in collaboration with CanSino Biologics. So far, only the military will have access to the vaccine.
It’s big news for a couple reasons. No vaccine has been approved for use in the general public, which makes China’s approval of the CanSino Biologics vaccine noteworthy, even if it’s only being used in a limited capacity (the Reuters report says the Chinese military did not say whether or not the vaccine would be mandatory). It’s also notable that the Chinese government is skipping phase 3 trials, which are longer term and more robustly consider the effects of a vaccine.
Over 10 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded worldwide, with the disease causing half a million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Public health officials are eager to get a vaccine to market and many have crunched typical timelines. The National Institutes of Health in the United States is facilitating phase 3 trials for Moderna’s MRNA vaccine, which will begin in July. The company’s phase 2 is still ongoing.
When the results of CanSino Biologics’s phase 1 study published, they received little fanfare. The data showed that while the majority of people who received the vaccine saw a spike in T-cells and antibodies that bind to the spike protein, there was a lack of antibodies that neutralize the biologic effects of the virus. Only 75% of people who received the highest dose of the vaccine developed enough so-called neutralizing antibodies to potentially fight off infection. Among those who received medium to low doses, only half developed sufficient neutralizing antibodies.
In an interview with Chemical and Engineering News, Wistar Institute scientist Hildegund C.J. Ertl, who works on adenoviral vector vaccines, said, “It is not great, but it is better than nothing.” She went on to note that the antibody response was particularly disappointing in participants aged 45-60, an age group that has suffered more dire outcomes from contracting COVID-19. Other scientists featured in the article noted that the vaccine may be a better prevention tool for the young and healthy.
Canada is currently running phase 2 trials on the same vaccine with 500 participants. The trial will run for six months and, at that point, may have even more insight into the efficacy of this vaccine.