November 27, 2020

You Can Now Get a COVID-19 Vaccine in China. That Might Not Be a Good Thing

A staff member works during a media tour of a new factory built to produce a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at Sinovac, one of 11 Chinese companies approved to carry out clinical trials of potential coronavirus vaccines, in Beijing on September 24, 2020. Credit – Wang Zhao–AFP/Getty Images

Li Shurui didn’t hesitate. Faced with putting his life on hold indefinitely or the risk of catching COVID-19 by returning to university in the U.K., the 22-year-old business student decided to roll up his sleeve and receive an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

Two injections of CoronaVac made by SinoVac (otherwise known as Beijing Kexing Bioproducts) cost 2,000 rmb ($300) at the private Taihe Hospital in the Chinese capital. The treatment still hasn’t passed final (Stage 3) clinical trials but is already being offered to the public on a first come, first served basis. Anyone can turn up, pay their money and get the jab. Li says hundreds were queuing to get immunized at the same time as him.

“I’m a little worried about side effects but more worried catching the virus overseas,” Li tells TIME. “But I haven’t had any problems from the jabs so far.”

It’s not just the CoronaVac vaccine on offer in China. An unofficial vaccine rollout is gathering pace despite the warnings of international public health experts. In September, state-owned SinoPharm revealed that hundreds of thousands of Chinese had already taken its experimental COVID-19 vaccines as part of a state initiative to protect frontline health workers and officials traveling to high-risk nations. In the eastern manufacturing hub of Yiwu this week, hundreds of people queued for a $60 dose of CoronaVac.

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