First foreign COVID vaccines go from Germany to China

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By Thomas Escritt and Alexander Ratz

BERLIN (Reuters) – Berlin sent its first batch of BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to China to be administered initially to German expatriates, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday, the first foreign coronavirus vaccine to be delivered to the country.

No details were available on the timing and size of the delivery, although the spokesman said Berlin was pushing for foreigners other than German nationals, estimated to number around 20,000, to have access to the injection if they wanted it.

The shipment comes after China agreed to allow German nationals in China to have the injection following an agreement during Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing last month, with the German leader pushing for Beijing to allow the injection to be made available for free as well. to Chinese citizens. 🇧🇷

In a letter to be sent to German citizens in mainland China, the government said it would offer basic immunizations and booster doses of vaccines approved for use in the European Union free of charge to anyone over 12 years of age.

Family members of other nationalities would not be included. Vaccinations for children under 12 may follow at a later date.

“We are working on the possibility that, in addition to Germans, other foreigners can also be vaccinated with BioNTech,” the spokesman told journalists in Berlin.

The vaccines will be delivered to German companies in China as well as embassy sites, and talks are underway with other EU governments about how to deliver them to citizens of other nationalities, a source familiar with the situation said.

China would need to approve expanding access beyond German citizens, the source said.

In return, Chinese nationals in Europe can be vaccinated with SinoVac from China, the spokesperson said.

The comment comes after a report earlier this month that Germany’s health ministry had granted permission allowing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to be imported into Germany to be administered to Chinese nationals in that country.

The injection has not been approved for use by Europe’s medicines regulator, but the World Health Organization has given the green light for its use.

Until now, Beijing has insisted on using only domestically produced vaccines, which are not based on western mRNA technology but on more traditional technologies.

The shipment comes amid Beijing’s dismantling of its strict “zero-COVID” lockdown regime, which has led to a wave of cases that has caught a fragile health system unprepared.

Experts predict that the country of 1.4 billion people could face more than a million deaths from COVID next year.

Allowing German expats access to a western fix is ​​a big gesture for Berlin, reflecting Beijing’s effort to strengthen ties with the EU’s biggest economy after years of trade and climate tensions between the two countries.

Shares in BioNTech rose on news of the shipment, closing up 2.3% in Frankfurt, while shares in Pfizer in New York were up 1.25% in late morning trading in New York.

BioNTech was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

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China has nine domestically developed COVID vaccines approved for use, more than any other country. But none have been updated to target the highly infectious Omicron variant, as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have for boosters in many developed countries.

The two injections developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the most used around the world.

At the start of the pandemic, BioNTech struck a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical to supply the injections to Greater China.

While vaccines have become available in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the regulatory review for mainland China has not been completed. BioNTech said the decision rests with Chinese regulators and did not give a reason for the delay.

China’s zero COVID policy and lockdown measures have kept death and infection rates to a minimum in recent months, but have caused major disruptions to both the domestic market and global trade and supply chains.

China uses a narrow definition of COVID deaths and reported no new fatalities on Tuesday, even crossing one off its overall tally since the start of the pandemic, now at 5,241 – a fraction of the casualties of many far less populous countries.

The National Health Commission said on Tuesday that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who have had the virus are classified as deaths from COVID.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Alexander Ratz and Christian Kraemer; Additional reporting by Danilo Masoni in Milan and Amanda Cooper in London; Writing by Miranda Murray; Editing by Josephine Mason and David Evans)

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