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China vaccinates tens of thousands of people with COVID-19 trials still underway

China vaccinates tens of thousands of people with COVID-19 trials still underway
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China has vaccinated tens of thousands of people for protection against the coronavirus while clinical trials are still being conducted, stoking safety concerns from some experts about the decision.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was supportive of China's campaign to vaccinate certain people against the coronavirus in July amid Phase 3 clinical trials, Reuters reported.

The country launched its emergency program in July after communicating with the WHO in late June, Zheng Zhongwei, a National Health Commission official said Friday.

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"After the approval, on June 29, we made a communication with the relevant representatives of the WHO Office in China, and obtained support and understanding from WHO," said Zheng.

Health workers and border officials are considered high-risk groups and have been among the first to receive vaccines during clinical trials.

The move to begin vaccinations while still in clinical trials had shocked global health experts, as much speculation still surrounds the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 trial vaccines, The New York Times reported.

Mariangela Simão, assistant director general at the WHO, said Friday countries have the autonomy to issue emergency use authorization for any health product, citing the national regulations and legislations, Reuters reported.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said this month emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines are a "temporary solution." The long-term solution would follow the completion of Phase 3 trials.

China is currently eyeing three vaccine candidates, all in Phase 3 trials overseas, and are used in the emergency program.

Beijing has not publicly released full details of the emergency use program, though China has said it is on track to produce 610 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020 and 1 billion by 2021, said Zheng.

The vaccine will be affordable and widely accessible for Chinese residents, Zheng added.