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Head of China CDC gets injected with experimental coronavirus vaccine

A Beijing official has revealed that he has been injected with an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

‘I’m going to reveal something undercover: I am injected with one of the vaccines,’ Dr Gao Fu, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an online conference on Sunday. ‘I hope it will work.’

China is developing at least eight vaccine candidates for COVID-19 as the country determines to become the first country in the world to roll out a successful vaccination for the disease.  

The Chinese health chief has previously claimed that China’s first coronavirus vaccine could be ready by September. 

Dr Gao Fu Sunday revealed the news during a webinar hosted by Alibaba Health, an arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant, and Cell Press, an American publisher of scientific journals. 

He also said that taking the jab himself was an attempt to persuade the public to follow suit when one is approved. 

Gao did not say when or how he took the vaccine candidate, leaving it unclear whether he was injected as part of a government-approved human trial.

The claim underscores the enormous stakes as China competes with US 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 in various stages of human testing worldwide are from China, the most of any country. 

Gao declined to say which of the vaccines he was injected with, saying he didn’t want to be seen as ‘doing some kind of propaganda’ for a particular company.

Last month, Gao was a coauthor on a paper introducing one candidate, an ‘inactivated’ vaccine made by growing the whole virus in a lab and then killing it. That candidate is being developed by an affiliate of state-owned SinoPharm.

The company previously said in an online post that 30 employees, including top executives, helped ‘pre-test’ its vaccine in March, before it was approved for its initial human study. Scientists vehemently debate such self-experimentation, because what happens to one or a few people outside a well-designed study is not usable evidence of safety or effectiveness.

A state-owned Chinese company injected employees with experimental shots in March, that even before the government-approved testing in people – a move that raised ethical concerns among some experts, reported The Associated Press earlier this month. 

Chinese state media have also reported that employees of state-owned companies going abroad are being offered injections of the vaccine.

Gao said he took the injection to instill public confidence in vaccines, especially amid a tide of rising mistrust that has fuelled conspiracy theories and attacks on scientists.

‘Everybody has suspicions about the new coronavirus vaccine,’ Gao said. ‘As a scientist, you’ve got to be brave. … If even we didn’t do it, how can we persuade the whole world – all the people, the public – to be vaccinated?’

Andrew Rennekamp, an editor at Cell and one of the moderators of Gao’s webinar, said, ‘This is a brave thing to do, and it shows his faith in what he believes is the safety of the vaccine and his commitment to the science and to public health.’

Even as China is among the leaders in the global race for a vaccine, it is also striving to overcome years of drug scandals – the latest coming in 2018 when authorities recalled a rabies vaccine and later announced that batches of children´s DPT vaccines, for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, were ineffective.

Gao himself had also been under heavy scrutiny for the China CDC´s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, both at home and abroad. He largely vanished from public view for months, resurfacing again in an interview with state media in late April.

Recently, Gao has been involved in research on the coronavirus.

As vaccine research continues, China’s CDC is now looking into potential immunisation programs, trying to figure out whether to prioritise children, the elderly or healthcare workers, he said.

Gao’s revelations come at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions fuelled by the outbreak. Beijing’s delays in warning the public and releasing data at the beginning of the outbreak contributed significantly to the coronavirus’s spread, while President Donald Trump and other American politicians have made unsubstantiated claims that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where it was first detected.

Tensions have flared to the point where it´s now disrupting research, leading to frustration among scientists who work with Chinese collaborators. The Trump administration has moved to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization, and has cut funding to research initiatives studying coronaviruses in China.

Gao said repeatedly in his lecture that he wanted more cooperation between the US and China, pleading for unity even as relations between Beijing and Washington plummet to new lows.

‘We don´t want to have China and the U.S. separated scientifically,’ Gao said. ‘We´ve got to work together.’

China’s coronavirus cases surge as new COVID-19 cluster spread to nine cities 

China has been hit with a spike of coronavirus cases as a new COVID-19 infection cluster spreads to five regions across the country. 

The contagion link first emerged in a major port city in north-eastern China last week has spread to nine cities, including the Chinese capital Beijing, prompting officials to impose fresh restrictions to prevent a second wave of infections. 

Fears of a fresh virus crisis have been fuelled as Xinjiang, home to the nation’s most Uighur ethnic minority, has also been battling a local COVID-19 outbreak since mid-July.

China had largely brought the virus under control since it first emerged in the country late last year, through a series of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

But in recent months a number of small outbreaks have given cause for concern, with China reporting 68 new infections on Tuesday – the highest daily number since April.

Of those, 57 were in the north-western region of Xinjiang, where an outbreak has seen millions of residents tested and strict lockdowns in the regional capital Urumqi.

Six more cases were also reported in the industrial port city of Dalian, Liaoning province, where a new outbreak first emerged at a seafood processing plant last week. This brings the total number of new infections in Dalian to 44.

A fresh Beijing case reported Tuesday was also linked to an asymptomatic patient who had travelled from Dalian – the first new local case since a cluster in the capital was brought under control in early July.  

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