A senior Chinese health official said a coronavirus vaccine could be ready for “emergency” use by September.
Dr. Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, says this means that a jab could be developed in time to fight a second wave of infections.
It happens as scientists around the world rush to find an effective inoculation against Covid-19, which is widely regarded as the only long-term way to contain the deadly virus.
The World Health Organization estimates that it will take 18 months to find a vaccine.
However, Dr. Gao, a leading virologist, says he is confident that China can start deploying one before the end of the year, South China Morning Post reports.
If the trials are successful, the vaccines will initially be distributed to health workers, but could be made available to the public early next year.
Speaking to the China Global Television Network, Dr. Gao said, “These newly developed vaccines, which are still in phase 2 or 3, could be used for certain special groups of people, for example health workers.”
The announcement would be the first time that China has established a timetable for its efforts to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, which has now killed nearly 200,000 people worldwide.
Dr. Gao says the country, which claims to have two jabs ready for clinical trials and a third in development, is leading global research efforts.
It comes after a city of 10 million people in China yesterday imposed new foreclosure measures following a strong coronavirus case.
Harbin now has the largest Covid-19 outbreak in China after the highly contagious virus was first detected in Wuhan at the end of last year.
A new group of at least 70 cases has been linked to a 22-year-old student who unknowingly spread the killer virus after returning from New York, officials said.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Oxford started human trials on another Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday, and Imperial College is expected to start two clinical trials soon.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the head of the Oxford project, previously said that she was “80% confident”. His team’s efforts will prove effective in the fall.
Over 800 volunteers will participate in trials in the coming weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pledged £ 20 million to the efforts of the University of Oxford and £ 22.5 million to the Imperial College team.
Hancock says the UK will “put everything we have” into developing a vaccine and is “at the forefront” of global efforts.
“We have invested more money than any other country in the global search for a vaccine and, for all the efforts in the world, two of the main vaccine developments are happening here at home – in Oxford and Imperial”, a he declared.
Several other human vaccine trials are currently underway in the United States.
Moderna and Inovio have started their trials, while several other research groups have expressed interest in deploying trials in the coming weeks.