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China: Coronavirus Vaccine Could Be Ready for 'Emergency Use' in April

FILE - Medical personnel in protective gear prepare medicine for coronavirus-infected patients, at a pharmacy at Wuhan Tongji Hospital, in Wuhan, China, March 2, 2020. Chinese health officials say a first vaccine should soon be available.

Weeks after its scientists released the sequence of the coronavirus, China says the first vaccines could be in "emergency use" next month.

A top Chinese health official said Friday the country was moving full steam ahead to develop vaccines for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 100,000 people and killed upwards of 3,000 worldwide.

“According to our estimates, we are hopeful that in April some of the vaccines will enter clinical research or be of use in emergency situations,” said Zheng Zhongwei, director of the National Health Commission’s Science and Technology Development Center.

Zheng said dozens of China's vaccine research institutions are being involved, and the development of different types of vaccines also are moving forward.

Developing vaccines that are safe and effective takes time, investment, and good science. For a coronavirus like the one that causes COVID-19, the process comes with even more challenges. The testing alone for its safety and efficacy will take 12 to 18 months or more, officials say.

Under China's law, vaccines developed for major public health emergencies can be deployed for urgent use under specified conditions, if the National Medical Products Administration considers that the benefits of the treatment outweigh the risks.

Zheng did not elaborate on under what kind of condition the vaccine could be used on humans.

China announced in late February that it could begin clinical trials as early as April.

In the U.S., in a record-breaking pace, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna shipped its vaccine last month to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to begin human testing.

Scientists say the world has a long way to go in the race to find a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a recent White House briefing the whole process of approving an effective vaccine is going to take at least a year.

VOA's Steve Baragona contributed to this report.