Eastern Chinese cities to offer ordinary citizens COVID-19 vaccines

By Huang Lanlan and Chen Shasha Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/16 13:50:51

A boy looks at Sinovac Biotech LTD's vaccine candidate for COVID-19 on display at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing. Photo: AFP

With the safety and effectiveness of China's homegrown COVID-19 vaccines gradually being proved through numerous tests and pilot injections, some local Chinese governments are trying to offer more people voluntary injections ahead of the coming autumn-winter period, a traditionally peak season for respiratory infections.

Health authorities in Jiaxing, East China's Zhejiang Province, announced on Thursday that the city has been administering inactivated COVID-19 vaccines among high-risk groups and would gradually offer it to ordinary citizens for urgent use.

The vaccine, developed by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech LTD, will be provided to people aged between 18 and 59 at a price of 400 yuan ($59.5) for 2 shots, the Jiaxing Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday.

Having not been officially approved for marketing, this type of vaccine is only approved for urgent use, it added.

Jiaxing CDC confirmed to the Global Times on Friday that the vaccines have arrived in the city. "Details of when and how the vaccines will be distributed to [the vaccination sites] across the city are still being worked out," said a staffer with the local CDC.

Those engaged in relatively high-risk jobs, including medical and epidemic prevention workers, port inspectors and public service personnel, are among the priority groups being offered the shots.

Ordinary citizens with the need for vaccine injection for urgent use could also make a reservation at community-level vaccination sites once the priority groups have been accounted for, said the Jiaxing CDC.

Several local vaccination sites reached by the Global Times on Friday said they have been informed of the matter, but are yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.

"I have no idea when and how many vaccines we will have," said Zhao, a staffer with Xinjia community healthcare center, who added that the center had received lots of inquiries from local residents about the injections.

Zhao estimated that ordinary citizens won't able to be vaccinated in the near future as priority would still be given to the high-risk groups. 

The Zhejiang provincial government said at a Friday press conference that it was working on the voluntary COVID-19 vaccination for citizens across the province, particularly high priority groups.

This batch of vaccines that would be used in Zhejiang was bought from Sinovac, said Jiaxing CDC.

A public relations representative at Sinovac confirmed the purchase to the Global Times. "[Zhejiang] government made a plan after the State Council had approved the urgent use of several types of COVID-19 vaccines in June," the representative said on Friday.

This is probably the first time that local Chinese governments have introduced vaccines that haven't officially reached the market, said Shanghai-based immunologist and vaccine expert Tao Lina, who added that Zhejiang is an ideal place for a pilot of the vaccination because of relatively high health consciousness among residents in the province.

Tao, nonetheless, said he doesn't encourage non-priority groups to be vaccinated at present, as the infection risk for those not engaged in high-risk jobs is relatively low.

According to Jiaxing CDC, citizens must "weigh the advantages and disadvantages of getting COVID-19 vaccine shots for urgent use" and sign an informed consent form before receiving the shots voluntarily.

This vaccine type contains two doses at an interval of 14-28 days, said the CDC.

In Yiwu, a manufacturing hub also based in Zhejiang, the local CDC told National Business Daily on Friday that it had a very limited quantity of Sinovac vaccines, approximately several hundred doses in all. The CDC also offers citizens the injections at 400 yuan for two shots.

The price is lower than the allegedly 1,000 yuan of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), according to some reports. Tao predicted that Sinopharm may later lower the price to around 600 yuan to enhance the competitiveness of its product.

"Theoretically, these developers have the independent pricing power on COVID-19 vaccines based on market demand," Tao told the Global Times.

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