A staff member displays samples of the COVID-19 inactivated vaccine at Sinovac Biotech Ltd., in Beijing, capital of China, March 16, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei)
China will start inoculating some key groups with COVID-19 vaccines in this winter-spring period, said a National Health Commission (NHC) official in Beijing on Saturday.
In a two-step vaccination drive, the vaccines will be given first to priority groups, including those engaged in handling imported cold-chain products and people working in exposed sectors. These include port inspection and quarantine, aviation, public transport, fresh market, medical treatment, and disease control, Cui Gang, an official with NHC's disease control department, said at a press conference.
The vaccination program will also cover those who plan to work or study in countries and regions with medium or high risks of exposure to the virus, Cui added.
It will help relieve the pressure on China in preventing and controlling imported COVID-19 cases. It would also lower the risks of domestic outbreaks of the epidemic, said Cui.
Next, with COVID-19 vaccines officially approved to enter the market or the yield of vaccines improving steadily, China will put more vaccines into use, inoculating the eligible population as widely as possible, Cui said.
"This will gradually forge a barrier of immunity among the public to stop the spread of COVID-19 in China," Cui said.
China's COVID-19 vaccine development has entered the "final sprint," with five vaccines undergoing phase-3 clinical trials.
The State Council joint prevention and control mechanism against COVID-19 has ordered the strict inspection of vaccine quality, safe and smooth cold-chain transportation, as well as timely and accurate delivery of vaccines, said Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the NHC.
The mechanism has also emphasized the importance of providing medical support and service. It especially applies to timely treatment and reporting of adverse reactions during the vaccination drive, Zeng said.
To protect high-risk groups, China approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines in June. More than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed for emergency inoculation use since July, said Zheng Zhongwei, an official with the NHC, at the press conference.
The emergency vaccinations were given to people with high exposure risks on the premise of voluntary, informed consent. "After strict monitoring and observation, no serious adverse reactions took place, " Zheng said.
Among those who received emergency vaccination in China, around 60,000 have gone to regions considered high-risk, and no serious infection cases emerged from these.
Inactivated vaccines for emergency use include two inactivated vaccines developed by the China National Biotec Group, affiliated to Sinopharm, and one by Sinovac Biotech. They are all under international phase-3 clinical trials.
By now, about 75,000 people overseas have been enrolled in the phase-3 trials of the three vaccines, with 150,000 doses inoculated. "Study results have shown no serious safety threats," Zheng said.
"It's on this basis that we decided to start the vaccination plan among the high-risk groups nationwide," he added.
China has adopted five technological approaches in developing COVID-19 vaccines, with 15 vaccines entering clinical trials. Five are currently undergoing phase-3 clinical trials.
An infectious disease sees no borders. "Our vaccination work will not only protect the Chinese people but also contribute to the global prevention and control of COVID-19," Zeng Yixin said.