As the race to find a cure for COVID-19 heats up, a state-owned Chinese drugmaker is boasting about using some of its top executives as guinea pigs, even before receiving approval from the government to test the vaccine in humans.
“Giving a helping hand in forging the sword of victory,” the Beijing-headquartered Sinopharm wrote in an online post, according to The Associated Press.
The post was accompanied by what appears to be pictures of some of the company’s leaders, who are helping to “pre-test” its vaccine.
The ethically dubious move exemplifies how the fierce battle to become the first company to produce a coronavirus vaccine has altered the rules of the game.
“Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the new Holy Grail,” Lawrence Gostin, a global public health law expert at Georgetown University, told the AP.
Gostin compared the fierce competition to become the world’s first country to effectively win the battle against the deadly virus to the Space Race during the Cold War.
“The political competition to be the first is no less consequential than the race for the moon between the United States and Russia,” he said.
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that being the first to come up with a vaccine can “instill a sense of national pride” — in a global race in which China, along the U.S. and U.K., are currently the best positioned nations.
According to SinoPharm’s online post, 30 “special volunteers” have agreed to participate in the program in a show of “spirit of sacrifice.”
“The idea of people willing to sacrifice themselves ... is pretty much expected in China,” Yanzhong said.
Since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in December 2019, the new coronavirus has infected more than 13.6 million worldwide, killing just over 586,000.
And the situation could still get “worse and worse and worse,” as the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned early this week.