China says Xi Jinping given local Covid jab as it seeks to ease vaccine safety fears
Rare disclosure comes as China struggles to increase elderly immunisation rates amid online rumours of side-effects
China’s Covid-19 vaccines are safe and have been given to leaders of the state and ruling Communist party, officials said, as Beijing steps up efforts to allay public concerns about safety that risk hampering its vaccination drive.
“China’s state and party leaders have all been vaccinated against Covid-19 with domestically made shots,” said Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, on Saturday.
In China, “state and party leaders” is a specific category of top officials at the national and deputy national level that would include the president, Xi Jinping, and premier, Li Keqiang.
Zeng’s comment, which did not specify when officials received the jab and how many doses they have received, came about two years after the country launched its Covid vaccination drive. China lags behind many other countries in informing its public about the vaccination status of their leaders.
Experts and officials have warned that lower vaccination rates for elderly people would probably squeeze health resources if the virus spreads widely, and render China less ready to emerge from its strict “dynamic Covid zero” policy that demands strict quarantine requirement for international travellers and various curbs on people’s movement and local businesses in domestic areas with clusters.
China reported 982 new coronavirus cases for 23 July, up from 817 new cases a day earlier, the National Health Commission said on Sunday. The bulk of the cases were in the northwestern province of Gansu and the southern region of Guangxi.
The country has achieved a 89.7% vaccination rate and given about 56% of its 1.41 billion people a booster dose, but only 61% of those aged above 80 have finished their primary vaccination.
However, more aggressive pushes by frontline officials, including limiting access of the unvaccinated to public venues, triggered online backlash and were quickly reversed.
A major concern among the unvaccinated is the safety of shots being used in China, with anecdotes of post-vaccination severe disease stirring fear online and criticism over the lack of transparency of the government and Chinese vaccine makers.
“Covid vaccines do not cause leukemia or diabetes, nor do they affect genetic development, cause tumor metastasis or antibody-dependent enhancement, and those are irresponsible, false information on the internet,” said Wang Fusheng, an infectious disease expert at a hospital affiliated with the Chinese military.
The rate of hospitalisation for diabetes and leukemia were similar during 2018-22, Wang told a news conference.
For those aged over 60, the complete primary vaccination using Chinese shots cut the risk of progressing to severe disease by 89%, while a booster dose further lowered the risk to 95%, compared with the unvaccinated, said Feng Zijian, an official at the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association.
The most used Chinese shots were made by Sinovac and Sinopharm. The country has yet to approve foreign-made Covid products.