China approves fifth COVID-19 shot in push to vaccinate half a billion by end of June

Science & Health

With five approved COVID-19 vaccines, China aims to give shots to 40% of its population in the next four months, while also delivering huge amounts of doses to Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico.

The packing line for COVID-19 vaccines made by Sinovac Biotech in Beijing. Photo via Xinhua.

After a surprisingly slow start, China’s domestic rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is set to dramatically accelerate in the next few months.

  • As of two days ago, about 65 million shots had been administered in China, the National Health Commission said, per Reuters.
  • In comparison, the EU has administered over 50 million doses — more than twice as many per capita as China — and the U.S. has given over 110 million shots, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

But this might soon change: An additional half a billion people in China, for a total of about 40% of the population (560 million out of 1.4 billion), will be inoculated by the end of June, according to goals set by Beijing earlier this month.

  • This could be a major challenge, though Reuters reports that “little is known” publicly about the current production capacity of China’s major vaccine manufacturers.
  • If goals are met, however, then China aims to boost the vaccinated proportion of its population to 64% by the end of 2021, and 70-80% by mid-2022. This is a significantly accelerated timeline compared with some projections a couple of months ago.
  • One thing that will help: A fifth vaccine was just approved for public rollout in China, developed jointly by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, per the AP. Like the other four Chinese vaccines, final clinical trial data has not been made public in any peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The next phase of vaccine diplomacy

As rich nations, including the U.S., continue to hoard vaccines, the countries they are declining to share supply with, such as Mexico, are turning to China for help.

Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico are emerging as the three leading recipients of Chinese vaccines, according to a tracker by Bridge Beijing, a privately run Beijing-based development consultancy.

  • Indonesia has purchased 125 million doses from China, with 38 million delivered.
  • Brazil has purchased 120 million doses from China, with 18.2 million delivered.
  • Mexico has purchased 55 million doses from China, with 10.5 million delivered.

However, “China’s vaccine outreach in Africa appears to be rather weak,” Bridge Beijing writes. According to its calculations, the continent accounts for only 3.3% of the Chinese vaccines that have been delivered overseas.

The U.S., Japan, and Australia last week agreed to help India compete with China’s vaccine diplomacy by distributing 1 billion India-manufactured Johnson & Johnson shots, with a focus on Southeast Asia.

Finally: The power of vaccine diplomacy in Brazil? The New York Times published a piece that hints at, but does not directly allege, a connection between a surge in Chinese vaccine supply and Brazil’s regulators opening the doors to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

See also: