Amid the Coronavirus vaccine race, China has a number of candidates that are currently being trialed all over the globe. The country, where the virus originated, has even injected some of the employees of state-run companies. That was the plan for a group of Chinese miners in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
But the mining company never sought permission from the country's government. As a result, the PNG government blocked the arrival of Chinese workers, citing the "unauthorized" vaccine trial and using them as guinea pigs.
The company in question, Ramu Nickel, is run by state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China. In a statement, the company said it injected 48 of its Chinese employees with an experimental COVID-19 vaccine on August 10. In the statement, the company also told its employees that the vaccine "may show positive results" within a week. "If they need to be tested again for COVID-19, it is suggested to be conducted at least seven days after the vaccination date," it added.
Following the statement, the Pacific nation's pandemic response head, David Manning, has banned COVID-19 vaccine trials and put the Chinese-owned metal ore mining company under investigation. In addition, the PNG government sent 180 Chinese workers back.
"In light of the lack of information on what these trials are and what possible risks or threat that it might cause our people if they were to come into the country, I had canceled that flight yesterday just to ensure that we continue to act in the best interests of our people and our country," Manning said.
The island nation is battling the worsening COVID-19 situation. Though PNG was largely unscathed during the initial outbreak of the virus, it has seen a sharp rise in cases over the last month, pushing its tally to 361 with four deaths. However, in the absence of proper testing, the number could be much higher.
But the vaccine trial without informing the government did not go well with Manning. He said that the nation's department of health (NDoH) didn't approve any vaccine trials. "Any vaccines imported into PNG must be approved by NDoH and must go through vigorous vaccine trials, protocols and procedures," he said, adding that trials should be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) first.
That has created a sort of diplomatic crisis as Manning sent a letter to Chinese ambassador Xue Bing, seeking "immediate clarification of the Chinese government's position regarding the vaccination statement."
He further said that before any travel request could be approved, the Chinese government must inform the PNG government about the trial. "The government of PNG demands and deserves to fully understand the vaccine development and SARS-CoV-2 vaccine immunization program undertaken in China and its potential risks prior to any further approval being given for Chinese travel requests," Manning's letter to Bing read, as The Australian reported.
Manning asked China to provide "care management protocols" for the Ramu Nickel employees in case they fall ill. He also demanded China to provide proof if the vaccine trial was approved by the internal ethics committee.