BEIJING (AP) – The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says he was injected with an experimental coronavirus vaccine in an attempt to persuade the public to do the same when approved.
“I am going to reveal something undercover: I was injected with one of the vaccines,” Gao Fu said in a webinar on Sunday organized by Alibaba Health, an arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant, and Cell Press, a US publisher of scientific journals. “I hope it works.”
The Associated Press reported earlier this month. A Chinese state-owned company injected employees with experimental injections in March, even before government-approved tests on people, a move that raised ethical concerns among some experts.
Gao did not say when or how he took the vaccine candidate, making it unclear whether he was injected as part of a government-approved human trial. He did not respond to requests for comment.
The claim underscores the huge bets as China competes with American and British companies to be the first with a vaccine to help end the pandemic, a feat that would be both a scientific and political triumph.
China has positioned itself to be a strong contender. Eight of the nearly two dozen potential vaccines at various stages of human testing worldwide are from China, most from any country.
Gao declined to say which of the vaccines he was injected with, saying he did not want to be seen as “doing some kind of propaganda” for a particular company.
Last month, Gao co-authored an article that featured a candidate, an “inactivated” vaccine produced by growing all the virus in a laboratory and then killing it. That candidate is being developed by a state-owned SinoPharm affiliate.
The company previously said in an online publication that 30 employees, including top executives, helped “test” its vaccine in March, before it was approved for initial human study. Scientists vehemently debate such self-experimentation, because what happens to one or some people outside of a well-designed study is not usable evidence of safety or effectiveness.
Chinese state media have also reported that employees of state-owned companies traveling abroad are offered injections of the vaccine.
Gao said he took the injection to instill public confidence in the vaccines, especially amid growing mistrust that has fueled conspiracy theories and attacks on scientists.
“Everyone has suspicions about the new coronavirus vaccine,” said Gao. “As a scientist, you must be brave. … If we didn’t even do it, how can we persuade the whole world, all people, the public, to get vaccinated?
Andrew Rennekamp, editor of Cell and one of Gao’s webinar moderators, said: “This is a brave thing and demonstrates your faith in what you believe to be vaccine safety and your commitment to science and public health. . ”
Despite China being among the leaders in the global race for a vaccine, it is also striving to overcome years of drug scandals, the latest in 2018 when authorities withdrew a rabies vaccine and then announced that lots of DPT vaccines for children, for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, they were ineffective.
Gao himself had also come under intense scrutiny over the CDC’s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak in China, both domestically and abroad. It largely disappeared from public view for months, reappearing in an interview with state media. at the end of April.
Gao has recently been involved in coronavirus research.
As vaccine research continues, China’s CDC is now investigating possible immunization programs, trying to determine whether to prioritize children, the elderly, or health workers, he said.
Gao’s revelations come at a time of intense geopolitical tensions fueled by the outbreak. Beijing’s delays in warning the public and the publication of data at the beginning of the outbreak It contributed significantly to the spread of the coronavirus, while President Donald Trump and other American politicians have made unsubstantiated claims that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, the central city of China where it was first detected.
Tensions have soared to the point that he is now disrupting the investigation, leading to frustration among scientists working with Chinese collaborators. The Trump administration has moved to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization, and has cut funding for research initiatives studying coronaviruses in China.
Gao repeatedly said at his conference that he wanted more cooperation between the US and China, advocating for unity even as relations between Beijing and Washington fall to new lows..
“We don’t want China and the United States to be scientifically separated,” Gao said. “We have to work together.”