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2020-12-28 11:20:50

Major Chinese cities over the weekend announced they would begin rolling out official COVID-19 inoculation campaigns for high-risk groups, even though domestic vaccines have yet to receive approval from health authorities.

Shanghai, southern metropolis Shenzhen, and central city Zhengzhou all announced campaigns to inoculate people like frontline medical staff and cold chain logistics workers — vaccination drives larger in scope than those included in an emergency use program announced in July.

The announcements follow comments by health officials during a Dec. 19 press conference indicating they would start vaccinating “key populations” at higher risk of contracting the virus.

Shenzhen is so far the only major city to promise free vaccinations for people planning to go abroad for personal reasons, including international students. The latter group had thus far never been officially included in any preliminal vaccination drives despite arguably being at a high risk of exposure, as many of their destination countries still face ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

Some students told Sixth Tone in October that they had succeeded in getting inoculated, either by pulling some strings with vaccine makers or via small-scale emergency use programs available at certain local clinics for about 200 yuan ($30) per shot.

So far, no domestic vaccine has received full approval by China’s National Medical Products Administration. It is unclear whether China will provide the coronavirus vaccine for free to all residents once this happens.

In October, the country’s health care administration said the total costs of inoculating “masses” of people with two doses each “obviously surpass what (public) medical insurance can afford” in response to such a proposal by a National People’s Congress representative.

Potential funding for such vaccination drives is limited, partly because China’s public health system is separate from regular government-provided health care insurance. Currently, China’s public health system does not offer free inoculation for common vaccines such as those for influenza and HPV.

Experts have estimated that some 75% to 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve “herd immunity,” a scenario wherein enough people have become resistant to the virus to make further outbreaks unlikely.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A woman at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province, Dec. 26, 2020. People Visual)