Used to presenting superlative figures to the world, regardless of the field, China has again stunned in recent days with the number of Covid vaccines applied, which already exceeds half a billion. Even more than the volume, what impressed is the frantic acceleration of vaccination at the Asian giant.
Last week, from Sunday (16) to last Saturday (22), the daily average of the applied doses reached 14.9 million, according to data compiled by the Our World in Data project, at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom). -United). In May, the average is 10.5 million doses.
This is more than twice the daily rate in April and almost five times that of March. Of the 497 million vaccines administered since the coronavirus vaccination effort began on December 15 last year, 46% have only taken place this month.
Last week, the country stepped up the accelerator even further, reaching a record 17.2 million doses applied last Thursday (20). This corresponds, in a single day, to 30% of all vaccines administered in Brazil since January 17, when the first person was vaccinated in the country.
Soon, Chinese officials say, the country is expected to pass the 20 million vaccines per day mark.
With the pandemic at relatively low levels compared to the rest of the world, China has so far taken a somewhat complacent attitude to vaccination, despite being one of the world’s major manufacturing centers. vaccines. The country has 3.2 deaths per million inhabitants, compared to more than 2,000 per million in Brazil, for example.
As a result, China had prioritized so-called “vaccine diplomacy”, affecting much of its production for export, to around 100 countries, including Brazil. In addition to the economic dividends, this strategy reinforces the international image of China, within the framework of the policy of “soft power” of the Asian country.
Until May 19, 300 million doses had been sold on foreign markets, either as ready-to-use vaccines or as a raw material, known by the acronym IFA (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient). This equates to almost 40% of all production.
However, the scenario has now changed and could have repercussions in Brazil. The new Chinese race to vaccinate its population coincides with the spread of new variants of the disease, in particular that originating in India, a country which is today, alongside Brazil, the epicenter of the pandemic.
In addition, there has been a significant increase in contagion rates in South and Southeast Asia, areas with close trade ties to the Chinese, and an intense flow of people.
In Vietnam, for example, the number of Covid-19 cases increased by 75% in May, a growth that reached 84% in Cambodia and 93.5% in Thailand.
Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebellious province, has also seen a skyrocketing increase in cases, rising 178% in May, albeit from a small base.
In mainland China, for the time being, the scenario is that of the stability of the number of cases, but the regional context has led to a change of attitude.
The goal is to fully immunize 2 billion 1 billion people by the end of the year. The country’s total population is 1.4 billion, but many are young, live in remote areas or refuse to be vaccinated.
According to a Chinese government official, there is currently a need to find a better “balance” between new domestic demand and vaccine export commitments.
The scenario is that the timetables previously agreed with Brazil and other countries could experience some delay, which would be for a few days. The priority is to prevent this period from becoming too long.
Last Thursday (20), a group of governors virtually met with Chinese Ambassador to Brazil Yang Wanming to request the release of new batches of IFA.
During the conversation, the diplomat explained the scenario of overheating demand in his country, but pledged to prioritize the shipment of goods to Brazil. According to him, new batches of inputs for Coronavac, from Butantan, and AstraZeneca, from Fiocruz, will arrive in the coming days, enough to produce 16.6 million doses.
A shipment of IFA arrived from China on Saturday (22), and the health ministry announced on social media that it had received “contributions from abroad”, omitting the origin. In his profile, the Chinese ambassador joked: “Confucius said, done for friends, true to his word.”
After that, Minister Marcelo Queiroga and Itamaraty issued an acknowledgment in Beijing.
The change of command at the Brazilian Chancellery also made a difference. The new incumbent, Carlos França, has a friendlier attitude towards China, unlike the confrontational tone of his predecessor, Ernesto Araújo.
Despite the huge numbers, China still lags relatively behind in the international vaccination rankings, due to its huge population.
The country currently applies 34.5 doses per 100 inhabitants, against 85.43 / 100 in the USA for example. This indicates that it will take some time for domestic demand to cool down.
Even the prospect of a cooling Chinese appetite for doses is questionable. Starting in December, vaccination starts almost from scratch, as the guideline is that people get vaccinated every year, at least in the medium term.
To meet so many obligations, China is investing in new vaccines and increasing the production capacity of those already approved. The most widespread are those of the Sinovac laboratories (in service in Brazil) and Sinopharm, but there are three others at an advanced stage, including a single dose, produced by the CanSino company.
Global vaccine supply is also expected to increase with the advancement of immunization in the United States and Europe, which is expected to end by mid-year.
Subsequently, these countries are expected to increase the export or donation of vaccines to the poorest regions of the world, thereby easing the current burden on the Chinese.