China has since July 22 been administering its domestically-developed COVID-19 vaccines to a broad range of people whose number may soon be in the hundreds of thousands, including medical workers, the armed forces, and employees of companies who are working overseas on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, said a health official on August 22.
China has eight different vaccines which are going through clinical trials, and none have so far been approved for the market. Some of the vaccines have, however, been administered on an “urgent use” basis for the past month, Zheng Zhongwei, director of the Development Centre for Medical Science and Technology of the National Health Commission, which is leading the vaccine development programme, told State media.
Authorities have permitted administering vaccines to medical workers, border officers and those employed overseas, while the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also begun inoculating military personnel. Vaccines are being administered in two doses, with the second given one month after the first shot.
“The number of people being vaccinated on an urgent basis may reach hundreds of thousands across China, considering that personnel in wider sectors are being offered free injections,” Tao Lina, an immunology expert, was quoted as saying by the Communist Party-run newspaper, Global Times . “But it’s difficult to give an accurate figure since the Chinese military has begun mass vaccinations but has not released details.”
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That number could rise further by this winter. Mr. Zheng said that ahead of a possible wave of cases this winter, the vaccines would be made available “to people working in food markets, transport systems and services industries.” Those who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 will not be among the early group.
Mr. Zheng said when the vaccine reaches the market, it would be priced slightly lower than the estimate given by one of the producers, Sinopharm, of around 1,000 Yuan, or ₹10,800 for two shots. Sinopharm has said a vaccine may be given the green light for marketing by the end of the year, which was “dependent on the progress of late-stage clinical trials overseas”. More than 20,000 people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had taken vaccines in Phase Three clinical trials, while Sinopharm has signed agreements with three other countries, Peru, Morocco and Argentina, for trials.
The Global Times quoted an employee of a state-run enterprise working on overseas projects as part of the BRI as saying “all staff in her company have been offered inactivated vaccine injections on a voluntary basis for free.” The employee took the vaccine on August 7 and said “at least 10% of the employees, mainly those in charge of projects overseas, have been vaccinated in groups since they were notified on July 30.”
The inoculation of workers going overseas has, however, raised questions with some of the countries receiving them, with Papua New Guinea barring the entry of Chinese workers on a mine project who had been inoculated on August 10 before travelling.