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2020-08-19 09:25:58

Update: According to a Sept. 21 report by the South China Morning Post, the vice president of China National Biotec Group, another leading pharmaceutical company, said its two-dose coronavirus vaccine was being reviewed by the state drug regulator, and if approved would be sold to the public for 600 yuan or less.

A leading Chinese pharmaceutical group has projected that the country’s first vaccine against the novel coronavirus will be made available to the public in December, the state-run newspaper Guangming Daily reported Tuesday.

Liu Jingzhen, the chairman of China National Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd., or Sinopharm, said phase 3 trials of a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine were launched June 23 in the United Arab Emirates.

“Upon completion of phase 3 trials, the vaccine will enter the approval channel. It will be made accessible at the end of December,” Liu said, adding that annual production capacities at the biological products institutes in Beijing and Wuhan — two of China’s major vaccine producers— are 120 million and 100 million doses, respectively.

According to Liu, one injection with the vaccine will have a protection rate of 97%, with the human body needing around half a month to develop antibodies to fight the virus. But if a person receives two shots 28 days apart, the protection rate can approach 100%, Liu said.

Liu himself has been injected with the coronavirus vaccine twice, and says he didn’t experience side effects. He emphasized, however, that the vaccine may not be essential for the entire population.

“It’s necessary for students and workers in densely populated cities,” he said. “But if you live in sparsely populated rural areas, you can skip the shots.”

Liu estimated that one course of the vaccine, or two injections, will cost up to 1,000 yuan ($145). While China provides so-called category A vaccines — such as those against hepatitis B, diphtheria, and tetanus — free of charge to all citizens, it remains unclear whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be covered by the national free vaccination plan.

The virus poses the biggest threat to the elderly. I hope the government will prioritize free shots for older people living in heavily populated cities.

“It’s definitely not cheap if you have to pay entirely out of pocket,” Mo Yingying, a 41-year-old office worker in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. “But if it’s safe and effective, I’ll still go for it.”

However, Zhuo Yueying, 75, says a 1,000 yuan price tag would be prohibitively expensive for pensioners like her who receive around 3,000 yuan a month. “The virus poses the biggest threat to the elderly. I hope the government will prioritize free shots for older people living in heavily populated cities,” she told Sixth Tone.

Insiders fear that asking individuals to foot the bill will lower the national vaccination rate. “I’m worried this price won’t be enough to guarantee a high vaccination rate, making it harder to achieve herd immunity,” Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, wrote on microblogging platform Weibo.

“If another large-scale outbreak were to happen in the country, the government would probably take further measures,” Tao wrote. “However, given the current low incidence rate (of coronavirus infection), it’s acceptable to make the vaccine voluntary and require people to pay for it on their own.”

Earlier this month, Russia became the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine. The country is preparing to start a mass vaccination drive in October, and shots will be free.

As COVID-19 vaccine research continues worldwide at a frenetic pace and several candidates enter phase 3 clinical trials, countries are starting to settle on vaccination policies. On Wednesday, Australia announced that citizens would be eligible to receive a University of Oxford-developed vaccine for free.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: People Visual)