Canberra: A Chinese mining company in Papua New Guinea claims to have immunized employees against COVID-19 in an apparent vaccination trial, a newspaper reported on Friday.
The South Pacific island nation’s Health Minister Papua Jelta Wong said his department was investigating the claim by Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Ltd., The Australian reported.
National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning banned COVID-19 vaccine testing or trials in Papua New Guinea on Thursday and later noted the National Department of Health had not approved any trials.
“Any vaccines imported into PNG must be approved by NDoH and must go through vigorous vaccine trials, protocols and procedures” and must be pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, Manning said in a statement on Friday.
Wong did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A document on company letterhead entitled “Vaccination Statement” said 48 Chinese employees “have been vaccinated with SARS-COV-2 vaccine” on Aug. 10.
The statement was sent to the Papua New Guinea Health Department and advised that the vaccine could cause false-positive test results in those who received it, the newspaper said.
Manning has written to Chinese Ambassador Xue Bing seeking “immediate clarification of the Chinese government’s position regarding the vaccination statement.”
Ramu is operated by Metallurgical Corp. of China, a subsidiary of state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp.
Phone calls to Ramu’s office in the Papua New Guinea city of Madang and to the parent company’s Beijing headquarters in Beijing weren’t answered.
Australia, which is Papua New Guinea’s nearest neighbour after Indonesia and its largest provider of foreign aid, had learned China may have begun trialling a coronavirus vaccine in the region using employees of state-owned enterprises, the newspaper reported.
Australian government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Papua New Guinea is a poor country of 9 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers. It has recorded only 361 COVID-19 cases and four deaths. But infections have surged in the past month, particularly in the capital Port Moresby where a curfew is being enforced as a pandemic measure.