The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says he has been injected with an experimental coronavirus vaccine in an attempt to persuade the public to follow suit when one is approved.
“I’m going to reveal something undercover: I am injected with one of the vaccines,” Gao Fu said in a webinar Sunday hosted by Alibaba Health, an arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant, and Cell Press, an American publisher of scientific journals. “I hope it will work.”
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that a state-owned Chinese company injected employees with experimental shots in March, even before the government-approved testing in people — a move that raised ethical concerns among some experts.
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. He did not respond to requests for comment.
The claim underscores the enormous stakes as China competes with U.S. 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 co-author 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.
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 fueled 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?”