The first foreign COVID vaccines are heading to China from Germany

The first foreign COVID vaccines are heading to China from Germany

Berlin has sent its first batch of BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines to China to be administered to German expatriates initially, a German government spokesperson 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 handover, although the spokesperson said Berlin was pushing to allow foreigners other than German citizens, who are estimated to number around 20,000, to access the shot if they wanted to.

The shipment comes after China agreed to allow German nationals in China to have access to the shot following a deal during Chancellor Olaf Scholz's visit to Beijing last month, during which the German leader pressured Beijing to allow the shot to be freely available to Chinese citizens as well. 

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

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

"We are working on the possibility of vaccinating other foreigners in addition to Germans with BioNTech," the spokesperson told reporters in Berlin.

A source familiar with the situation said the bullets would be delivered to German companies in China and embassy locations, and talks were underway with other EU governments about transferring them to citizens of different nationalities.

The source said China would need to agree to expand access beyond German nationals.

In return, Chinese citizens in Europe can be vaccinated with the Chinese Sinovac, the spokesperson said.

The comment follows a report earlier this month that the German Ministry of Health had granted a permit allowing China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to be imported into Germany to be administered to Chinese citizens in that country.

The injection has not been approved for use by Europe's medicines regulator, but the World Health Organization has given the go-ahead for its use.

Beijing has so far insisted on using only domestically produced vaccines, not based on Western mRNA technology but on more traditional technologies.

The shipment comes amid Beijing dismantling its strict "zero COVID" lockdown regime, which has led to a surge in cases that has left the fragile health system unprepared.

Experts predict that the country of 1.4 billion people could face more than 1 million coronavirus deaths next year.

Allowing German expatriates access to Western opportunities is a major gesture for Berlin, reflecting Beijing's efforts to boost ties with the European Union's largest economy after years of tensions over trade and climate between the two countries.

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

BioNTech could not be reached for comment on the situation on Wednesday.

There are no western shots.

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

The two shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the most widely used worldwide.

Early in the pandemic, BioNTech struck a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical to provide the shots to Greater China.

While the footage has become available in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, the regulatory review has yet to be completed for mainland China. BioNTech said the decision was up to Chinese regulators and did not explain the delay.

China's non-spreading coronavirus policy and lockdown measures have kept death and infection rates to a minimum over the past months but have caused massive disruptions both domestically and globally and to supply chains.

China uses a narrow definition of COVID deaths and reported no new deaths for Tuesday, even passing one in the total death toll since the pandemic began, now at 5,241 — a fraction of the death toll in many less populated countries.

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

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