When Anny Ku heard that there were coronavirus vaccines on offer in Yiwu, a city in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, she traveled more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) for a chance to get the shot.
Ku worked in Chile for more than 20 years as an importer and exporter, but she returned to her home in southern China earlier this year after the coronavirus pandemic worsened and a large number of cases appeared in South America.
There had been no official announcement that a vaccine was available in Yiwu – just a series of articles in local media – but Ku believed she needed the shot in order to leave China and get back to her job overseas. “If one has (the vaccine), it’s much safer to leave the country,” she said.
Yiwu is one of a small number of cities which in recent weeks week have begun reportedly offering an experimental coronavirus vaccine to select members of the public, despite the drug still undergoing clinical trials. Jiaxing, another city in Zhejiang province, announced on October 15 it would sell vaccines to citizens with an “urgent” need.
“Citizens with urgent vaccination needs can go to the community clinic for consultation with the premise of voluntary and informed consent,” the Jiaxing Center for Disease Control posted to its official WeChat account on October 15. In Jiaxing the vaccine will cost about $60 for the required two doses once it is distributed, according to the statement.
Globally, there is currently no coronavirus vaccine which has been successfully tested and proven safe to use. As of October, four Covid-19 vaccine candidates designed by Chinese companies were in Phase 3 clinical trials, the final and most important step before regulatory approval can be sought for a drug.
When CNN visited the hospital in Yiwu where Ku had gone on October 19, staff confirmed that in the past week they had been giving experimental coronavirus vaccinations to citizens who had an urgent need to travel overseas. No one who CNN spoke to had received the vaccine, however.
The Yiwu government has yet to make a public statement on the release of the experimental vaccines. CNN has contacted them for comment.
Authorities in Jiaxing and Yiwu have not explicitly outlined what constitutes an “urgent” need for the experimental vaccine, what proof is required to show you need a shot, or why these cities in Zhejiang were allowed to give out emergency doses rather than larger metropolises such as Beijing or Shanghai.
An article in the state-run tabloid Global Times on Tuesday denied that the Covid-19 vaccines were publicly available at all.
However, that hasn’t stopped some regular citizens arriving in Yiwu and Jiaxing by train or plane in the hope of getting their hands on the experimental vaccine.
Other cities in Zhejiang are still announcing a rollout of vaccinations using the experimental drugs. On Tuesday, the city of Shaoxing said that “emergency vaccinations” would be given out in the autumn and winter, with the time and date yet to be announced.
Since the initial outbreak in December 2019, China has slowly brought its local coronavirus epidemic under control, through a combination of citywide lockdowns, mass testing and sophisticated track and trace tools.
Now Beijing is at the forefront of a global effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, with Chinese President Xi Jinping repeatedly urging the country’s scientists to accelerate their work. On October 20, Tian Baoguo, an official from the Ministry of Science and Technology said that 60,000 people had been injected as part of the drug trials and no serious adverse reactions had been recorded.
“At present, China’s vaccine research and development work is generally in a leading position,” he said.