Mass COVID-19 vaccination drive under way in Beijing

China wants to inoculate millions ahead of the Lunar New Year which falls in the middle of February.

A man receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination at a temporary centre in Beijing [Stringer CNS via AFP]

Thousands of people have been lining up in Beijing to receive their vaccinations against COVID-19, as China steps up a mass vaccination drive ahead of the Lunar New Year, which falls in February and is the country’s busiest travel season.

Tens of thousands of people in cities from Beijing to Shanghai and Shenzhen have received their first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine since the campaign got under way at the beginning of the month, according to state media.

Vaccinations are also under way in provinces including Shandong and Shanxi as China tries to ensure 50 million people are vaccinated before the Lunar New Year in middle of next month.

Health authorities on December 31 granted conditional approval to a vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, which the company said had been found to have a 79.34 percent efficacy rate in Phase III trials. The vaccine requires two doses.

A journalist with the AFP news agency saw people being bused into a temporary vaccine centre at a central park, after being instructed to fill in electronic forms about their health status and any allergies at an outside gate.

Some were wearing two layers of surgical face masks.

People wait to receive COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines at a temporary centre set up in Beijing, as China races to inoculate millions before the Lunar New Year [Stringer CNS via AFP]

One man surnamed Gu, a catering worker in his 30s, told the news agency his employer had booked him a vaccine appointment at the centre and that he wanted the jab “for peace of mind.”

“I believe any adverse effects will be controllable,” he said.

China wants to vaccinate millions of citizens before the Lunar New Year in mid-February when people traditionally return to their hometowns. Under an emergency use programme, which started last July, authorities say 4.5 million people – mostly front-line health workers and government officers going overseas – have already been vaccinated with one of three experimental vaccines.

Production stepped up

Sinopharm and more than a dozen other vaccine manufacturers have stepped up production to meet the surge in demand, the state-backed newspaper China Daily reported on Tuesday.

The state-owned pharmaceutical company has built three new factories to manufacture the doses, as well as new facilities for filling the vials and packaging the product, it said. Annual production capacity is expected to reach one billion doses by the end of the year, compared with 120 million now.

“The goal is to bring qualified doses to every person who needs the vaccine at a faster rate,” Yang Xiaoming, chairman of China National Biotech Group, a unit of Sinopharm, was quoted as saying by China Daily.

Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed queues outside local hospitals and community health centres as people waited to read consent forms and have their temperatures taken before getting the jab.

People wait to board shuttle buses to a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Beijing [Greg Baker/AFP]

Health officials said last week that the elderly and those with underlying conditions would be first in line for inoculations, after announcing conditional regulatory approval for the Sinopharm vaccine.

They stressed the product’s safety, urging people to accept the vaccine and help China achieve collective immunity from the virus.

The first cases of COVID-19 – then considered a “mysterious” new form of pneumonia – emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late in 2019. The government sealed off the city and its surrounding provinces as the Lunar New Year got under way. The four-month lockdown effectively ended the outbreak within China’s borders, while local lockdowns and mass testing have helped keep subsequent outbreaks at bay.

China reported 33 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, 17 of them locally-transmitted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies