Coronavirus: China aims to vaccinate 40% of its population before June ends

As of Feb 28, 52.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in China.
As of Feb 28, 52.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in China.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China plans to vaccinate 40 per cent of its 1.4 billion people against Covid-19 by the end of June, the country's top health expert said.

The ambitious target to inoculate 560 million people means the world's most populous country will have to pick up its pace, as only 3.5 per cent have been vaccinated so far.

As at Feb 28, 52.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered, according to Dr Zhong Nanshan, a senior medical adviser to the Chinese government.

China's success in controlling the outbreak allowed it to take a leisurely approach to vaccination, with few people falling sick even as the number infected in the US and Europe soared.

Because the virus is still circulating in many areas, the vicious cycle of illness and death will continue until the majority of the world's population is protected against it via vaccination or infection.

"The current vaccination pace is very low today due to the outbreak control in the early stages," said Dr Zhang Wenhong, director of infectious diseases at Shanghai Huashan Hospital and a government adviser on Covid-19 response, during a video conference late on Monday (March 1). "The vaccine capacity, however, is very high and is expected to increase to 2.1 billion doses by end of 2021."

Dr Zhong and Dr Zhang were among the speakers at the conference co-hosted by the Brookings Institution and Tsinghua University.

China has lagged behind its US and European counterparts in the immunisation drive, despite performing far better in controlling its outbreak through aggressive blitz-testing campaigns, hard lockdowns and quarantines imposed whenever flareups occurred.

China has delivered slightly more than three doses for every 100 people, compared to over 20 in the United States, 30 in Britain and almost 90 in Israel, according to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker.

China now has four domestically developed and produced vaccines that have been approved for use, after the regulator greenlit entrants from CanSino Biologics Inc and Sinopharm Group Co's Wuhan subsidiary last week.

China previously pushed back by two months its plan to inoculate 50 million people before the Chinese New Year, as concerns about supplies and hesitancy around the domestically produced vaccines complicated its immunisation efforts.

While China tackled its few flare-ups quickly after suppressing the initial outbreak in central Wuhan, the country is still struggling to balance opening its economy and controlling the virus in a sustainable manner.

It should ease up in its approach, allowing small local outbreaks without aggressively shutting down all activity in the region to keep the economy strong and active, said Dr George Gao, head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, at the conference.