The EU has offered China free Covid-19 vaccines to help Beijing contain a mass outbreak of the disease after it decided to lift tough nationwide pandemic-related restrictions.
The offer was made in the final days ahead of a meeting of EU health ministry officials on Tuesday, European Commission officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The initiative is part of Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides’ effort to arrange a European response to the prospect of a surge in infections after Beijing abandoned its so-called “zero-Covid” policy.
“Commissioner Kyriakides has reached out to her Chinese counterparts to offer solidarity and support, including public health expertise as well as through variant-matched EU vaccine donations,” an official said. Beijing has yet to respond to the offer, the person added.
China has relied on its domestically-made vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm and has yet to deploy western vaccines using mRNA technology at scale. The World Health Organization said on December 21 that China’s current immunization coverage is inadequate.
Its domestic vaccines require three doses to prevent serious illness in vulnerable individuals.
Two doses provided only 50 percent protection for people over 60, said Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO chief for health emergencies, at a press conference.
“It’s just not adequate protection with a population as large as the population of China. In such a large population, with so many people in a vulnerable environment, with this coverage, we really need to focus on vaccination.”
According to WHO data, only 40 percent of those over 80 have received three doses.
In contrast, in the EU, 83 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated and more than 1.7 billion doses have been administered. Contracts have been signed with eight vaccine developers, providing up to 4.2 billion doses.
However, EU Member States have excess stocks due to bulk orders of vaccines under long-term contracts with manufacturers. These could be shipped to China, EU officials said.
Kyriakides is aiming to meet with drug companies to adjust contracts within the next few weeks after member states complained they were spending money on destroyed medicines.
Meanwhile, some EU countries have insisted that travelers arriving from China after January 8, when restrictions are lifted, must provide proof of a negative Covid test or their vaccination status.
France, Spain and Italy have all said they will introduce controls amid fears of the spread of new variants that have not yet been identified. However, Kyriakides has called for a coordinated approach. Member state officials opted last week not to call for China-specific measures as the coronavirus is now endemic in the EU. They will meet again on Tuesday, and there will be a meeting of the Emergency Integrated Political Crisis Response Mechanism on Wednesday.
China’s mission to the EU on Sunday insisted the country had good immunization coverage. “More than 3.4 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in mainland China, with over 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated and over 92 percent of the population having received at least one dose,” it said.
It said Chinese tourists posed no threat, noting that the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control considered Covid-19 screening and other measures for travelers from China “unjustified”.
“Destinations around the world can’t wait to welcome Chinese tourists as searches for cross-border travel in China soar,” added China’s mission to the EU.