Government workers are receiving a trial vaccine, but the risk of side effects is still to be determined
By: Hunter Stephens 11/12/20
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill thousands of people every day, many health experts are looking towards the production of an effective vaccine as the best way to stop the spread of the virus. Until a soundly produced vaccine is approved by a respected medical body most of the world will keep social distancing requirements and recommendations in place. Despite the general decrease in international travel, the Chinese government and state-owned companies have begun to send their employees to job sites across the globe once again after bringing the virus under control in their country. The government and their companies are attempting to offer an incentive to their employees to travel with access to a yet to be approved vaccine produced for the disease. Many who have had the chance to receive the trial vaccine have gladly accepted before making their trips abroad for work. One worker for China Railway cited other countries handling of the pandemic as his reason for getting the vaccine. “I need the vaccine. The pandemic is so bad outside China,” said Cheng Litong while waiting outside a vaccination center (Feng & Ruwitch, 2020).
Although we often view a company providing greater access to healthcare as a beneficial act for their employees, medical professionals are raising questions about the early distribution of the vaccine. The chosen vaccines are mostly in their final stages of the approval process and both the pharmaceutical producers and the Chinese government see no issue with inoculating the employees. However, there are many dangers that an unapproved vaccine can pose to the health of those who receive it. One risk it poses is the unknown side effects that vaccines can have in their testing phases. When a similar trial vaccine to the one being given to Chinese government employees was tested on animals in South Korea some of the subjects contracted an enhanced respiratory disease which members of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul have highlighted as a possible side effect (Feng & Ruwitch, 2020). This possibility of additional infection coupled with the likelihood that people will act riskier after receiving the vaccine is enough to wait until official approval is awarded.
With both the American made Pfizer vaccine and the Russian made Sputnik V both claiming to have 90% efficacy, it would seem that most pharmaceutical products at this point would be worth going to market (Kantchev, 2020) (Stamataki, 2020). After all, most vaccines have possible side effects and they are administered on a daily basis. However, releasing a vaccine before its approval can be a slippery slope that allows international actors to circumvent government regulation in pursuit have larger profits due to the fact that non-approved drugs are not price-regulated. This type of distribution is essentially a free human trial for the manufacturers who are producing the vaccines. They are able to gain key knowledge through the early distribution of the drug that generates experimental data. This data will be vital in further refining the vaccine to make it safer as well as provide better insights into how to market the drug. Sadly, because this is not an official test, those receiving the vaccine will not be compensated in any way, a major ethical vioaltion.
Additionally, this particular case in China raises ethical concerns because of how they are determining who receives the vaccine. There is no formal system for who is selected but heavy preference is given to the government in employees. In some instances though, employees are actually required to receive the vaccine, even if their role did not require them to travel to a region outside of China. One China Railway office administrator was informed that all new hires must be vaccinated and the administration was for safety purposes. A government forcing an individual to be vaccinated is an issue that has long been in the public discourse in the U.S. and around the globe. But asking employees to be subject to an experimental drug for the benefit of a private company does tilt the scales in a highly unethical direction in this case. The best-case scenario is that the patients given the vaccine do retain immunity with generally little to no side effects. However, the worst-case scenarios are much more impactful on the lives of those the drug was tested on. Physical pain and crippling health side effects can lead to a terrible standard of living for those affected by the compound. This could be a costly test for the Chinese government and maybe the final step that causes international attention to turn to their recent series of human rights violations.
Feng, E., & Ruwitch, J. (2020, November 12). China Is Inoculating Thousands
With Unapproved COVID-19 Vaccines. Why? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/11/12/933956247/china-is-inoculating-thousands-with-unapproved-covid-19-vaccines-why
Kantchev, G. (2020, November 11). Russia Says Its Coronavirus Vaccine
Sputnik V Shows Over 90% Efficacy. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-says-its-coronavirus-vaccine-sputnik-v-shows-over-90-efficacy-11605095822
Zania Stamataki (2020, November 10). Pfizer vaccine: What an ‘efficacy rate
above 90%’ really means. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/pfizer-vaccine-what-an-efficacy-rate-above-90-really-means-149849