Chinese health experts claim that within the next four months the country will vaccinate about 40 per cent of its 1.4 billion population.
Zhong Nanshan, head of the high-level expert group of China’s National Health Commission, said on Wednesday that over 52 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been delivered across the country up to 28 February.
He admitted that China has so far been slow to vaccinate its people relative to many other major economies, administering 3.56 doses per 100 people so far, but suggested this was a result of the fact that the country had successfully contained the pandemic at an early stage.
“The current vaccination pace is very low due to outbreak control (being) so good in China, but I think the capacity is enough,” said Zhang Wenhong, an infectious diseases expert based in Shanghai on Monday, while speaking in an online forum between US and Chinese medical experts hosted by the Brookings Institution and Tsinghua University.
Even though it has been more than two months since China started its public vaccination programme, Mr Zhong’s remarks appear to be the first example of an official vaccination target. Chinese health experts have previously maintained that they enough vaccine to cover the whole population, without going into specifics.
China has so far approved four Covid-19 vaccines and their developers state that they could collectively manufacture up to 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021.
However, Mr Zhang noted that even at the rate of vaccinating 10 million people a day, it would take roughly seven months to vaccinate 70 per cent of the Chinese population.
During the panel discussion, experts pointed out the slowness of the global vaccine rollout and cautioned against expecting a quick return to normal. They urged greater US-China cooperation on Covax, an initiative to distribute vaccines more fairly across the developing world.
Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “Demand will outstrip supply for many months, and unless there is more manufacturing… for years.”
While Gao Fu, who is the head of China’s Centre for Disease Control, predicted that life could return to an “approximate normal” only by the summer of 2022.
According to local media reports, up until February 2021 China had provided coronavirus vaccine aid to 69 countries and two international organisations, and commercially exported vaccines to 28 countries. It has pledged to provide close to 500 million doses of vaccines abroad in total.
Additional reporting by agencies