World-renowned epidemiologist Chen Wei has been stationed at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan since mid-January. On Tuesday, she injected the vaccine, which is yet to even be tested on animals, into herself and six team members.
The move was an apparent bid to show how well China is doing in combatting coronavirus.
Chen is a major-general in China’s People’s Liberation Army.
She was at the forefront of the fight against Ebola and SARS.
The epidemiologist and her team have been working for over a month at the Wuhan Institute of Virology rushing to develop a vaccine to help combat the deadly coronavirus.
The team have been working on treatments including plasma therapy and repurposing a nasal spray that is designed to boost immunity to the virus.
Chen spoke with China’s state-run television station on Tuesday, claiming to have made a major breakthrough in the development of a vaccine.
She said: “We are doing all we can to put the recombinant vaccine that we are developing into clinical application,
“We must strive to bring the vaccine we are working on to clinical trial and application, providing strong technical support for winning this battle.”
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These prototypes are currently being tested on animals.
Initial human tests are likely to begin at the earliest next month before extensive trials to test the vaccines’ effectiveness and to highlight any possible side effects.
Any vaccine will also need regulatory approval before it can be given out to the public, and a widely available vaccine is not expected to be ready until early next year.
This comes amid fears China may be covering up the true extent of the outbreak.
A recent report showed a government-backed app has been censoring keywords since January 1.
The review, carried out by Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab found WeChat blocked combinations of keywords on the virus and criticism of President Xi Jinping’s response.
The most popular messaging app in the county was created privately by Allen Zhang, but the government has actively supported its development and uses it as a data source to conduct mass surveillance in China.
The government has censored what its people read and say online for years, but an unearthed report suggests they began blocking discussions weeks before officials acknowledged the severity of the outbreak.
The report also found that WeChat blocked more words as the outbreak grew.
On December 31, China first alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the outbreak, but information was initially withheld over the number of people infected, the risks downplayed, and timely information overseen, leading some to claim the government was lying about the true extent of the virus.
Then, almost a month later, on January 20, President Xi publicly addressed the issue of the virus, saying it had to be “resolutely contained”.
It is not clear if WeChat’s keyword-blocking in this period was based on government directives, or if it was done of its own accord, as the report suggests it could be the result of companies “over-censoring in order to avoid official reprimands”.