First foreign COVID vaccines head to China from Germany

  • Batch of BioNTech shots on the way to China
  • German citizens will get shot; Berlin pushes for wider use
  • Shipment comes after Scholz visited China last month
  • Comes as infections spike in world’s No. 2 economy

BERLIN, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Berlin has sent its first batch of BioNTech (22UAy.DE) COVID-19 vaccines to China to be administered initially to German expatriates, a German government spokesperson said on Wednesday, the first foreign coronavirus vaccine to be delivered to the country.

No other details were available on the timing and size of the delivery, although the spokesperson said Berlin is pushing for foreigners other than German citizens to be allowed access to the shot if they want it.

The shipment comes after China agreed to allow German nationals in China to get the shot following a deal during Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit in Beijing last month, with the German leader pressing for Beijing to allow the shot to be made freely available to Chinese citizens as well .

There are about 20,000 German nationals currently in the country.

“I can confirm a shipment of the BioNTech vaccine is on its way to China,” the person told journalists in Berlin.

“We are working on the possibility that besides Germans also other foreigners can be vaccinated with BioNTech.”

In return, Chinese citizens in Europe can be vaccinated with China’s SinoVac (SVA.O), the spokesperson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankfurt-listed shares in BioNTech briefly spiked on news of the shipment, and were up 1.9% at 1456 GMT. Pfizer shares were up 0.6% in New York.

BioNTech was not immediately available to comment on the situation on Wednesday.

China is stuck between rising Covid-19 cases and stalled vaccination rates

NO WESTERN SHOTS

The WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing on Wednesday the UN agency is concerned by the spike in COVID-19 infections in the world’s No. 2 economy.

He said the WHO is supporting the government to focus its efforts on vaccinating people at the highest risk across the country.

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

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

Early on in the pandemic, BioNTech struck a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (600196.SS) with a view to supplying the shots to greater China.

While the shots became available in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the regulatory review for mainland China has not been concluded. BioNTech has said that decision was up to Chinese regulators and has not given a reason for the delay.

China’s zero-COVID policy and lockdown measures have kept death and infection rates minimal over the past months but caused massive disruptions both domestically and in global trade and supply chains.

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

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

Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Alexander Ratz; additional reporting by Danilo Masoni in Milan; Writing by Miranda Murray; Edited by Josephine Mason and David Evans

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomas Escritt

Thomson Reuters

Berlin correspondent who has investigated anti-vaxxers and COVID treatment practices, reported on refugee camps and covered warlords’ trials in The Hague. Previously, he covered Eastern Europe for the Financial Times. He speaks Hungarian, German, French and Dutch.

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