Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine could be cleared for use in minors before March: state media

BEIJING (Reuters) - A COVID-19 vaccine developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a Sinopharm subsidiary, is hopeful to be approved in China for use in children and adolescents before March, state media reported late on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A Sinopharm sign is seen at the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, China, September 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

“Based on clinical data we have obtained and regulatory procedures we are filing to National Medical Products Administration, [the vaccine use] could be expanded to these aged between three and 17 before March,” CNBG chairman Yang Xiaoming told state TV in an interview, without elaborating on the data.

Three to five-year-old children, whose immune system is still developing, must be carefully and closely monitored during vaccination, Yang said in a separate interview with state news agency Xinhua.

CNBG has two COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials, both of which have been authorised for emergency use and given to limited priority groups at high risk of infection. A Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 candidate has also been authorized for emergency use.

The vaccine being developed by CNBG’s Beijing unit was the first in China to be approved for general public use in late December.

It was not immediately clear which CNBG vaccine Yang was referring to in his comments about clinical trials on children and teenagers. Sinopharm and CNBG were not immediately available for comment.

The CNBG vaccine approved for general public use was 79.3% effective in preventing people from contracting the disease, CNBG’s Beijing Institute of Biological Products said in late December, but it has not yet released any detailed efficacy data.

Having managed to largely contain the coronavirus pandemic after it hit the economic powerhouse last year, China is stepping up vaccination amid clusters of rising cases, which has prompted the government to impose restrictions and lockdowns in certain regions.

China’s vaccination programme, which started in July for emergency use, was widened to include more priority groups in December but does not yet cover people younger than 18 and older than 59 due to insufficient clinical data.

Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate and a shot from CanSino Biologics are also being tested on children and teenagers.

Western vaccine developers including Pfizer and Moderna have also included children as young as 12 years in their clinical trials.

(This story refiles to correct typo in paragraph 3)

Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Louise Heavens