Coronavirus | China vaccinations cross 1 billion after massive month-long push

Coronavirus | China vaccinations cross 1 billion after massive month-long push

More than 500 million doses administered in less than a month, according to National Health Commission’s figures

China has now administered more than one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, its National Health Commission (NHC) said on Sunday, with the vaccination campaign stepped up in recent weeks amid a small cluster of cases reported in southern China.

The renewed vaccination push saw 500 million doses administered in the past 28 days – more than 17 million doses across the country every day – according to the NHC’s figures.  It took more than three months for China to administer its first 100 million doses with its vaccination campaign beginning in December. It took 25 days to reach 200 million, a landmark reached on April 21, and 17 days to then reach the 300 million mark.

The initial slow speed was attributed to a combination of vaccine hesitancy and the widespread perception that vaccinations were not needed as COVID-19 had been broadly under control in China since last summer.

China has avoided a second wave with continuing tight curbs on international travel that have remained in place since last year, among few countries to keep in place stringent measures that severely limit the number of international arrivals, all of whom also have to undergo mandatory 21 days centralised quarantine. Stringent lockdowns and mass testing and tracing have been deployed to quickly squash subsequent local outbreaks that have been linked to overseas arrivals or port cities, as has happened in recent weeks in southern Guangdong province which reported cases of the Delta variant.

The Guangdong cases, coupled with cases also reported in the northeast, have pushed many to get vaccinated, with State media showing long queues of residents lining up, some waiting overnight in Guangdong to receive their shots.

Around 40% of the population will be fully vaccinated by the end of June, with 70% expected to be fully covered by the end of the year, authorities have said.

China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have been approved by the World Health Organisation for emergency use. While there have been questions about the efficacy of the vaccines, a May 26 study based on phase 3 trials of two of Sinopharm’s vaccines conducted in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain placed their efficacy at 72.8% and 78.1% respectively in preventing all infections, lower than mRNA vaccines but similar to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine’s reported efficacy. Most significantly, the trial found the vaccines to be fully effective in preventing severe infections with the trial reporting zero severe cases among the vaccinated group.

A Beijing-based immunologist told the Communist Party-run Global Times on Sunday the next step, after vaccinating most of the population, would be “to improve the vaccines so that they can handle virus mutations as well as make them safe for the elderly.” The newspaper reported that “some places in China have issued notices saying they will give priority to people who are due to accept their second or third shots over those registering for their first shots”, with the arrangement “aimed at ensuring those who have had first shots can complete their vaccination procedures in a timely manner and build immunity effectively, which will also help to protect those who have not yet had any shots.”

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