China’s vaccine rollout goes into overdrive after rare outbreak

After sluggish beginning 125m Covid shots were administered in 10 days in May

People receive coronavirus vaccines in Shenyang, in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

People receive coronavirus vaccines in Shenyang, in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

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China vaccinated more people against coronavirus in 10 days this month than it did in the first quarter of this year after a handful of locally transmitted cases sharply accelerated what had been a languid inoculation drive.

The Covid-19 immunisation programme, launched in early January, took almost three months to administer its first 100 million doses, after its population showed little interest in being vaccinated in a country where the spread of the virus had been almost entirely halted.

From May 9th to 19th, however, the total number of doses administered in China soared by 125 million shots, from 324.3 million to 449.5 million, according to data from the National Health Commission.

The rapid increase catapulted China into the top five countries for daily delivered doses on a per capita basis.

Acceptance was encouraged by a publicity drive from local governments that employed everything from gifts of eggs and cooking oil to rap videos urging citizens to “get jabbed quick”.

The campaign was given additional momentum last Friday when Lu’an, a city in east Anhui province, recorded four locally transmitted cases, China’s first in 20 days.

Local officials highlighted the fact that the infected individuals had not been inoculated, causing local residents to flock to clinics to be vaccinated, according to videos shared online.

A second cluster of cases last weekend that led to 14 infections in north Liaoning province resulted in a similar rush for jabs.

‘Extremely urgent’

Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert, warned that it was “extremely urgent” for people to be vaccinated.

“Just as everyone thought there was no longer any problem, then the epidemic suddenly returned,” he told local media last Sunday.

But it is not just in China, where its citizens have been encouraged to be inoculated.

Beijing began a scheme to vaccinate Chinese passport holders overseas in March. Dubbed the “Spring sprout operation”, the initiative was part of extensive efforts to avoid cases of Covid-19 being brought into the country by travellers.

China’s embassy in Thailand on Thursday launched the programme with a portion of the 500,000 Chinese-manufactured vaccines delivered to the southeast Asian nation to inoculate the 150,000 Chinese nationals in the country.

Beijing’s domestic rollout was initially slowed by a high proportion of vaccine exports. Until the beginning of April, China had exported nearly half of its total vaccines, according to data from Airfinity, a UK-based analytics company.

But China’s top three vaccine manufacturers have invested to expand production capacity that they said would mean total annual output of 4.6 billion doses by the end of this year.

Beijing has stressed that it would still provide vaccines to low-income nations as part of its vaccination diplomacy drive despite increasing vaccinations at home. It contrasted its position with those countries, such as India, that have placed restrictions on exports. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021