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China inoculated more than 100 million people in one week. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus: China passes 500 million doses in rush to meet vaccination target

  • Some provinces have a cut-off of June 9 to have the first jab to allow enough time to deliver second shots by the end of the month
  • In China, up to 85 per cent of the population would need to be vaccinated for herd immunity, says CDC researcher who believes it’s possible this year
China passed the 500 million-dose vaccination milestone mark on Sunday as the country pushes on to inoculate 40 per cent of the population against the coronavirus by June 30.

The National Health Commission said more than 13.5 million doses were administered nationwide on Sunday, bringing the total number of inoculations since mass immunisation began in December to 510.8 million.

It took 25 days to reach 200 million shots, another 16 to reach 300 million and only nine to achieve 400 million on May 15.

Then, in just seven days another 100 million-plus shots were administered, with a record 17.1 million given on May 20.

An NHC official said previously that China had the capacity to do 20 million shots a day.

Globally 1.65 billion doses have been given and 5 per cent of the population has had the full regimen, according to Our World in Data.

Addressing G20 countries on Friday, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres said more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses had gone to affluent countries and just 0.3 per cent to low-income countries.
He said the G20 must work with pharmaceutical companies, the World Health Organization and international financial institutions to ensure equitable global distribution of vaccines.

The United States has administered more than 284 million doses, and 39.3 per cent of the population is fully inoculated.

India – which has reported 4,454 deaths and 222,000 cases in the 24 hours to Monday – has administered more than 191 million doses and has 3 per cent of the population fully inoculated.

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China has not released data on the proportion of the population that is fully inoculated.

Nationwide, the most populous province Guangdong has administered the most vaccines – 40.2 million doses by Friday, or about 31 doses per 100 residents. But the capital Beijing leads the country with about 135 doses administered for every 100 residents. Its downtown area, Dongcheng district, has inoculated 80 per cent of the adult population with two doses.

China has a target of fully inoculating 40 per cent of the population – about 560 million people, by the end of June – prompting some provinces, including Jiangxi, Jilin and Shandong, to cancel new inoculations after June 9 to focus on second doses, which are recommended to be 21 days after the first.

“The first dose inoculation will be suspended between June 10 and 30 so that we can be fully committed to serving people who will receive subsequent doses of the vaccine and safeguarding the effectiveness of the vaccination,” Jiangxi authorities said.

“Everyone should try to receive the first dose of vaccine before June 9.”

Shao Yiming, a researcher with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the fast pace was partly because of a rising willingness among the population after small local outbreaks in Liaoning and Anhui provinces, in addition to a greater vaccine output.

Herd immunity stalemate faces Asia’s ‘zero-Covid’ economies

A certain percentage of the population must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity but that percentage depends on how contagious the virus is and how protective the vaccine is. In China’s case, 80-85 per cent of the population would have to have the Covid-19 jabs to establish the immunisation barrier, a target China can achieve within the year, according to Shao.

“Two factors will determine when China can achieve herd immunity: whether we have enough vaccines or how fast we can administer vaccines, which depends on people’s willingness. The vaccine supplies will peak in the middle of the year and the supplies greatly grow in the second half of the year,” Shao said. “We are well positioned to achieve herd immunity in the remaining next six months.”

China started a large-scale nationwide inoculation drive in December using mostly two-dose inactivated vaccines. Recent announcements by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that they will deliver a third-dose booster shot six months after completing the two-dose regimen raises questions about how long the vaccines can offer protection.

Shao said studies examining whether to give booster shots to different risk groups were under way, but the vaccines could nevertheless still offer protection, even after immunity weakened.

“Immunity to any vaccine will eventually wane, and in general, waning occurs significantly over 6 months – a phenomenon observed in Covid-19 vaccines. It is important to closely follow the waning of immunity in high-risk individuals and to give booster shots in a timely manner,” Shao said.

He said most people still had a large number of immune memory cells when immunity waned, which could still allow a strong response in the face of virus attack.

Shao said a booster shot against a variant of the coronavirus was also possible if the epidemic situation changed.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China passes the 500 million mark in vaccine doses