On November 7, the Ministry of Innovative Development of Uzbekistan announced that Uzbekistan would participate in trials testing a foreign coronavirus vaccine. This is the first time Uzbekistan is participating in such trials as pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to find a vaccine for the virus that caused the present pandemic. The company in question is Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical, a Chinese company that completed its second phase of trials recently. Uzbekistan is one of several counties where the company’s vaccine candidates will undergo phase three clinical trials.
Four Chinese specialists have already arrived in Uzbekistan along with the trial vaccine, and they will be joined by five more specialists. For four months the specialists will work on the planning stage to sort out precisely how to conduct the trial, the organization of the vaccination process, the monitoring of trial participants, and a series of trainings for doctors who will conduct the monitoring of participants. The Chinese specialists will also visit the health centers where vaccines will be administered and trial participants will be monitored.
According to the announced plan, 5,000 volunteers will participate in the trial in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Half of the phase three trial participants will be given a placebo and the other half the vaccine, participants will not know which they are given. The vaccine will be administered to two age groups: the first in the 18 to 59 range and the second consisting of those 60 and older. Any side effects following the vaccine administration will be covered by insurance and the company providing the vaccine. The volunteers will be under the watch of health specialists at local doctors’ offices. The trial is designed to last for a year and the volunteers will be examined eight times during that period.
The government of Uzbekistan gave four reasons for choosing Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical for vaccine trials. The first reason is the high safety and low risk of the company’s vaccine as the vaccine carries a small dosage of the virus. This rationale came up when the Minister of Innovation pushed back and responded to disgruntled social media discussions alleging that the authorities were turning Uzbekistan’s population into lab animals for testing the vaccine. The second reason given by the state is the vaccine’s effectiveness against more than one type of coronavirus, including the present scourge COVID-19 but also Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The third reason given is that following the successful testing of the vaccine, Uzbekistan could produce the vaccine and export to neighboring countries. The fourth reason provided was the ability of Uzbekistan to acquire the vaccine as a priority country and at a reduced price by participating in the trials.
News that Uzbekistan is one of the counties that is going to test China’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates first emerged in July with a different Chinese producer, Sinopharm Group. At that time Sinopharm Group proposed to conduct its phase three trials in Uzbekistan as well. According to the latest news, the testing of that company’s vaccine is still at the negotiation stage with the Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan. In addition to the Chinese vaccines, Uzbekistan is also planning to test the Russian vaccine candidate, Sputnik V. Official sources in Uzbekistan say that the clinical trials of the vaccine candidates will take place in parallel in order to select the most effective vaccine.
What Uzbek officials seem to be communicating is that without such trials, the country would not be able purchase vaccines for its population. The prudence and effectiveness of testing three different vaccines simultaneously is unclear. It could well happen that Tashkent will move ahead with the trials of the first Chinese vaccine at the beginning of 2021 and the remaining vaccines’ trial efforts will fall off.