Chinese COVID vaccine finds few volunteers in Pakistani trial

Chinese COVID vaccine finds few volunteers in Pakistani trial

Despite close ties with Beijing, conspiracy theories make many hesitate

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan, one of China’s closest allies, has been struggling to find volunteers for its part of a multicountry Phase 3 clinical trial of a Chinese vaccine against the new coronavirus.

“Hospitals … have been facing difficulties in recruiting volunteers for the trials because of the flood of misinformation, mainly on social media,” a senior official at the National Institute of Health (NIH), a government-run research body, told Nikkei Asia on condition of anonymity.

In September, Pakistan approved the final phase of clinical trials for the single-dose vaccine candidate Ad5-nCoV, codeveloped by CanSino Biologics, a Tianjin-based Chinese vaccine company, and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, a Chinese military-backed research arm. In return, China will supply COVID-19 vaccines to Pakistan as priority.

For the Ad5-nCoV Phase 3 trial, slated to conclude in January 2022, nearly 40,000 volunteers are expected to participate from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Pakistan.

Islamabad, which is economically close to Beijing and has $50 billion in infrastructure projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, has selected five hospitals in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore for the clinical trial, in which 8,000 to 10,000 people are expected to take part. Pakistan has also received massive Chinese medical and financial assistance since the outbreak of the coronavirus.