Vaccine producers in China have warned people not to fall for online scams in which profiteering advertisers are offering Covid-19 vaccines for sale, even though no vaccine is on the market yet.
Advertisements claiming to sell two kinds of Covid-19 vaccine have appeared on the WeChat social media platform.
“Contact me if you need the coronavirus vaccine. It can be made for export and production volume is low so people must queue. It will be officially launched on Sept 2,” said one advertisement claiming to sell a product manufactured by Sinovac Biotech.
But Sinovac spokesman Liu Peicheng told the South China Morning Post the WeChat advertisement was not authentic. He said Sinovac’s vaccine was currently in phase 3 clinical studies in Brazil and Indonesia and had not been approved for market.
Liu did not respond to the question of whether the vaccines were real and whether they were produced by Sinovac.
The other vaccine being touted was claimed to be from the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. It was advertised at 498 yuan (S$100) a dose and potential buyers were advised they should take three doses.
“Health care workers and people going abroad can use it on a priority basis,” the advertisement said.
The Wuhan institute and its parent company China National Biotec Group could not be reached for comment. But earlier the institute told Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily that its vaccine was still in the clinical trial stage and not on the market yet.
China’s vaccine industry has long been mired in quality problems and scandals, a worry that has caused misgivings among the population.
In a move to restore public confidence, China has been ramping up regulation for vaccines and in 2018 it imposed a record fine of 9.1 billion yuan on one of the country’s biggest rabies vaccine makers, Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology .
The firm was ordered to stop production when it was revealed faulty vaccines had been given to hundreds of thousands of children, triggering widespread public anger.
According to the Vaccine Administration Law, organisations and individuals outside the government’s disease control departments are not allowed to supply vaccines to a third-party vaccination agency.
Huang Simin, a Wuhan-based lawyer familiar with the vaccine law, said while it was illegal for individuals to peddle vaccines on social media, authorities should impose stricter regulatory measures to stop scams.
“We have a long history of vaccine problems, and it wasn't the pandemic that brought this problem to light. There have been many problems in the distribution of vaccines in the past, leading to many accidents,” she said.
“Due to the ongoing pandemic, everyone is hoping to have vaccines, which can make some people take risks. Not everyone understands the relevant strict provisions of the new vaccine administration law.”
The World Health Organisation says six vaccines have reached phase 3 clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans.
Each trial will last several months and involve up to 30,000 people. Sinovac and the Wuhan institute are both listed among those six vaccines.
Wang Xinhua, president of Guangzhou Medical University, said he expected a vaccine could enter the market in the first half of 2021.
“The effectiveness of a vaccine also depends on whether the virus mutates. We need to continue to monitor the mutation situation, which seems not very serious at present.”
“If we want to get the virus under control at all, the vaccine is the most important tool. In the recent large-scale antibody test, the percentage of people with antibodies in Guangdong [province in southern China] is less than one per cent. We can see the immunity of population in our country is relatively low,” Wang said.
Zhang Wenhong, a Chinese infectious disease expert and leader of Shanghai’s Covid-19 medical team, said the pandemic was likely to continue until the first half of 2021, even if one or more vaccines became available.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.