China in a hurry and already vaccinating population

Xi Jinping wants to win the vaccine race to continue boasting of covid management

Xi Jinping’s government has made the most of the message that China, unlike much of the world - Europe, the United States -, has successfully managed to control the expansion of the covid-19 pandemic. Now the Chinese government wants to convey the same message with the vaccine. Xi Jinping wants to be able to boast that Beijing also won this race. While in the West pharmaceutical companies compete for the percentage of effectiveness of the clinical trials of the various vaccines against the new coronavirus, in China they have already begun to sell them. The country is developing eleven vaccine candidates, and five of them are already in phase III.

Wilson was vaccinated in late July. He is the only foreigner in his department who has done so. He has worked, for two years, in one of the state oil companies - which he prefers not to specify -, and when asked if he wanted to be vaccinated, he did not think about it twice. They assured him that his bosses had already been vaccinated, and he recalls that he was especially reassured that his direct superior was going to be vaccinated along with him. The process, he explains, was free, at the company's facilities. After two weeks they gave him the second dose and he says he has not noticed any side effects during the entire time. Wilson, an Ecuadorian national, is one of the many Latin Americans who have travelled to China for postgraduate studies. In his case, the internship ended in a contract in an oil company with broad interests in Latin America. He believes that it was precisely the need to travel to South America for work that made him a recipient of the vaccine, since it has not yet been supplied to all company personnel.

Strategic state companies, such as energy companies, are part of the Chinese «emergency vaccination» system, which has received backing from the WHO and authorises vaccines to be administered whilst still being trialled. Last week, state Pharmaceutical Sinopharm, which has developed two of the five vaccines in phase three, informed that over a million people have been vaccinated as part of this programme.

However, criteria such as «emergency use» and «key workers», which the WHO accepts and China uses to justify its programme, are very elastic. Vaccines have mainly been administered to health workers, and one has been trialled on soldiers. Some markets have also immunised workers who handle frozen products, in case these could transmit the disease, whilst many bus drivers have also received a vaccine. Amongst the «high risk groups» are high ranking state officials, company managers and students or workers who travel abroad.

Private pharmaceutical Sinovac has also been vaccinating the population with this system for over a month. The long queues to receive a dose in some cities in Zhejiang province were widely reported in the media, claiming anybody could get one for around €60. Shortly afterwards Chinese authorities rectified and explained that only high risk groups were being immunised. But rumour has it, at least in Beijing, that if you want a vaccine and have enough influence, you can get one. Administering a vaccine that is still in its experimental phase may provoke criticism and generate insecurity in the West, but not in China.

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