China Plans to Vaccinate 50 Million by Early February

China has kickstarted an ambitious effort to inoculate 50 million people against Covid-19 ahead of the Lunar New Year, using locally developed shots that are moving closer to getting regulatory approval.

The launch will focus on giving Chinese-made vaccines to key groups including hospital, police, airport and customs staff, as well as utility workers, according to people familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified as the discussions are private.

Instructions were communicated in a recent teleconference to officials from the National Health Commission and provincial branches of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the people said. The South China Morning Post reported the plan earlier.

The rollout would be roughly the equivalent of inoculating the entire population of South Korea in less than two months, and sets the most ambitious pace globally, ahead of others like the U.S. and U.K. also racing to distribute doses. China’s centralized, controlled system has shown an ability to reach a vast number of people during the pandemic, with its success at containing the virus reliant on the mass testing of entire cities or populations, like Wuhan, when flare-ups emerge.

A total of 50 million will receive their first dose before Jan. 15 and the second shot by Feb. 5, in an attempt to pre-empt outbreaks before and during New Year celebrations, one of the people said. The weeklong holiday, which begins Feb. 11, typically sees hundreds of millions of Chinese travel across country for family reunions, raising the risk for increased transmission of Covid-19.

While the people didn’t name the domestic vaccines involved, the rollout comes as the country’s drug regulator is expected to sign off on shots made by state-owned China National Biotec Group Co. and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. for general use.

The NHC didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment, while China’s CDC didn’t comment. A spokesman for Sinovac said the company is not aware of the plan, and a CNBG spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions on WeChat.

China has already been giving shots from these vaccine-makers to hundreds of thousands of people including frontline workers. The latest plan seeks to significantly expand inoculation across the country by mobilizing the extensive networks of China’s CDC and clinics.

Chinese vaccine developers have inked supply deals with countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, which said earlier this month that CNBG’s shot showed an efficacy rate of 86% in a local trial of over 30,000 people.

Still, western makers have disclosed more detail and data from their trials, and there’s likely to be more skepticism over taking Chinese shots globally.

The rapid rollout underscores Beijing’s focus on preventing a repeat of the deadly outbreak in Wuhan early this year. Though China has nearly stamped out local transmission and life is largely back to normal for the vast majority of its population, there have been sporadic cases in recent weeks detected in northeastern Heilongjiang, western outpost Xinjiang and the hinterland province Sichuan.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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