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Global Times

When and how can China make COVID-19 vaccines free to its general public?

Global Times

By Zhang Hui Published: Dec 31, 2020 05:06 PM

Chinese health officials said on Thursday that China will make COVID-19 vaccines affordable to all Chinese residents and eventually offer them free of charge to the public as a premise, a pledge which analysts said would be realized next year when China's production capacity of the vaccine increases to cover the entire population.

Zheng Zhongwei, director of the Development Center for Medical Science & Technology of the National Health Commission, said at a Thursday media briefing that mass vaccination will roll out, and costs for the COVID-19 vaccine will be significantly lowered—this will make the vaccine affordable to ordinary Chinese residents.

Zheng made the remarks after China gave conditional market approval to an inactivated vaccine developed by Beijing Biological Products Institute under Sinopharm's subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG).

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, stressed at the media briefing that the vaccine price will depend on its scale of use, but the premise is that as a public product, the vaccine will eventually be made free to the public.

Ye Qing, deputy director of the Statistics Bureau of Central China's Hubei Province and a professor of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, told the Global Times on Thursday that we need to pay for the vaccines at this moment because China's vaccine capacity has not reached to a level to cover all residents.

Meanwhile, making vaccines free at this time will put great fiscal pressure on the central and local governments, Ye said.

The Chinese government at various levels has allocated 110.48 billion yuan ($ 15.92 billion) for epidemic prevention and control as of early March, and Ye predicted that the entire expenditure this year may reach to 200 billion yuan.

"The fiscal stress out of epidemic prevention and control for the central and local governments may last for years," Ye said.

On production capacity, Chinese vaccine developer has ramped up production lines. China has previously said it has 600 million doses of vaccine by the end of this year, and Sinopharm said it will produce 1 billion doses next year.

Ye said we need to appeal to the public that they should get vaccinated no matter the vaccine was free or not when China has enough vaccine, which may come next year.

Vaccination is the right of every individual as well as the duty of every individual in controlling the spread of infectious diseases, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in December.

China's vaccines went into emergency use in June, and have provided a majority of essential workers and key groups at high risk of infection the jab since December 15. Inoculations will be expanded to cover seniors, and people with underlying diseases before being promoted to cover all residents, Zeng said.

Several provinces have rolled out free vaccinations to key and high-risk groups, including Guangdong, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces. In some places such as Wuhan, people from key groups, including students going abroad, paid 234 yuan ($35.83) for each shot.

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