Vaccinations for the general public against COVID-19 are expected to start around Spring Festival, which begins on Feb 12, China's health authorities said.
By Jan 9, China had administered over 9 million shots of COVID-19 vaccine to people deemed at high risk of contracting the disease, including workers in customs, medicine and healthcare, the cold chain industry, public transportation, and produce and seafood markets, and no severe abnormal reactions had been reported, said senior health officials.
As vaccine production ramps up, the rollout will gradually cover other demographics including the general public, Zeng Yixin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, said during a news briefing held by the State Council Information Office on Jan 9. The public can receive the vaccine free of charge, he added.
China began mass vaccination of prioritized personnel on Dec 15 with an inactivated vaccine developed by State-owned Sinopharm Group. The two-dose vaccine, created by the China National Biotec Group, a subsidiary of Sinopharm, was approved for emergency use in China in July. On Dec 30, it became the first anti-COVID vaccine to receive conditional approval from the country's top drug regulator after showing 79.34 percent efficacy in the ongoing stage-3 clinical trials.
The trials are taking place in several countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which both approved the vaccine in December, according to the company.
"Since China approved emergency use of the vaccine in July, more than a million doses have been administered with no serious side effects. Around 70,000 people who got vaccinated have gone to high-risk countries, and no serious infection was reported," the company said in an email to China Daily.
Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the two-dose vaccine may induce minor reactions, such as redness, swelling or pain around the injection site, which is normal for all vaccines.
"This vaccine is produced through the inactivated vaccine technique, which is a mature method and guarantees a high level of safety and efficacy," Feng said in an interview with China National Radio.
Zeng, the vice-minister, said the country has established comprehensive protocols for vaccination, including monitoring and handling of side effects.
The vaccine is also able to neutralize the new strain of the novel coronavirus that was reported to be behind the rise in transmission of the disease in parts of the United Kingdom, Zeng added, citing recent research by Chinese scientists.
Cui Gang, a senior official at the National Health Commission's Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control, said China has established 25,392 vaccine locations across the country, along with detailed regulations and plans for the handling and administering of the vaccine.
Zhang Wenhong, leader of the Shanghai team of experts on the clinical treatment of COVID-19, said on his micro blog that the prompt and efficient popularization of COVID-19 vaccines at home and abroad will effectively curb the growth of the pandemic.
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