May 8, 2021


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China’s Covid vaccination program plagued by delays and reluctance

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As China has pledged to ship hundreds of millions of vaccines overseas, the rollout of vaccines nationwide has been slow, raising concerns that restrictions on international travel will continue until at least next year.

China was the first country to start Covid-19 vaccinations in July and administered 40.5 million doses in early February, the most injections behind the United States. But at 2.9 doses per 100 people, it lags far behind other major economies and the levels needed to form herd immunity in the population. He only administered four-fifths of the vaccinations he hoped to achieve at this point.

In some ways, China’s immunization program has fallen victim to the success of its containment policies. Rapid interventions last year brought the pandemic under control and brought down the number of cases, reducing the incentive to get vaccinated.

At the same time, the failure of vaccine makers Sinopharm, Sinovac, and CanSino to release comprehensive trial data has damaged the confidence of some medical professionals, as many Chinese citizens choose to see if first. vaccinations cause unwanted side effects for others.

“In China today, there is very little benefit for anyone from taking the vaccine,” said Chen Long, partner at Beijing-based research company Plenum. “All this means a very slow opening of the borders.”

Chinese nationals traveling must be quarantined for 14 days upon their return, whether or not they have been vaccinated. The borders have been almost completely closed to foreign nationals since March 2020, with the exception of a few diplomats and a handful of business leaders.

Global investigator Ipsos found that 85% of Chinese people intend to be vaccinated, which places them among the most willing in the world. But the study didn’t ask participations when. A survey of predominantly urban professionals by Beijing-based market research firm Gavekal Dragonomics found that of 307 respondents, some of whom had not yet received the vaccine, more than half had not received the vaccine. ‘intention to join the current cycle of vaccinations.

As in some other countries including Germany and parts of the United States, reluctance to immunize in China appears particularly high among health professionals. A survey published in February by a Chinese medical journal showed that medical personnel are unlikely to want to be vaccinated: Of 756 medical workers in Zhejiang province, only 28% were ready for vaccines.

For surveys by Gavekal and medical workers, the most common reason for not getting the vaccine was fear of side effects. Medical staff were also concerned about possible low efficacy, while both groups said they felt they did not need vaccination because the local risk of infection was so low.

“Initially, we know so little about the vaccine and there is a lack of evidence to support its safety and effectiveness. In addition, the situation in Beijing has been well under control for some time, ”said a Beijing-based doctor who requested to remain anonymous.

The doctor estimated that about a fifth of his colleagues at the hospital had not been vaccinated, although in many cases it was because their medical condition, such as taking other medications or trying to get pregnant, had excluded them.

Vaccines are prepared for shipment to the Sinopharm packing area © Kevin Frayer / Getty

Age restrictions on the use of Sinopharm and Sinovac injections have also slowed the rollout. Both vaccines are only recommended for healthy people between the ages of 18 and 59, which automatically excludes those who would most like to receive a vaccine. Instead, the government has focused on vaccinating people with the potential to spread the virus, such as taxi drivers.

At this rate, analysts believe that it will take 2022 to vaccinate most of the population.

Since January, the Beijing city government has extended its vaccination campaign to more residential areas, texting residents to encourage them to register.

Mandatory vaccinations have been imposed by some public companies. In parts of Beijing, local city management officials have asked bar staff to get vaccinated or tested every week. The municipal government has also made vaccination compulsory for taxi drivers.

Sinopharm and Sinovac together said they would have the capacity to produce 2 billion vaccines by the end of the year. It is not certain whether they will achieve this goal: Sinovac is producing at a daily rate well below its declared capacity.

Manufacturers also face a shortage of glass vials to store vaccines, which are mostly imported. The supply is particularly limited since the Sinopharm vaccine uses a single-dose vial. In contrast, each vial of BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine contains six doses, while one vial of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine contains 10 doses.

Sinopharm and Sinovac must also balance domestic demand with their global commitments. Chinese foreign ministry pledged 10 million doses the Covax global vaccination program, which will primarily supply low-income countries. In addition, Chinese vaccine makers have pledged more than 500 million doses under bilateral agreements and have delivered around 21 million doses, according to Gavekal.

But help is on the way. Prior to February 6, when Sinovac’s vaccine was approved, only one vaccine developed by Sinopharm had been authorized for general use. Two additional candidates, one produced by CanSino and a second vaccine by Sinopharm, were approved on Thursday, bringing the total number of vaccines available to four.

Additional reports from Nian Liu, Xueqiao Wang and Christian Shepherd

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