COVID vax safe, leaders jabbed: China

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China's COVID-19 vaccines are so safe they have been given to leaders of the state and ruling Communist Party, officials say, as Beijing steps up efforts to allay public concerns that risk hampering its vaccination drive.

"China's state and party leaders have all been vaccinated against COVID-19 with domestically made shots," Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, said.

In China, "state and party leaders" is a specific category of top officials at the national and deputy national level that would include President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Zeng's comment, which did not specify when officials received the jab and how many doses they have received, came about two years after the country launched its COVID-19 vaccination drive.

China lags behind many other countries in informing its public about the vaccination status of their leaders.

Experts and officials have warned the lower vaccination rate for the elderly would be likely to squeeze health resources if the virus spreads widely.

That would render China less ready to emerge from its strict "dynamic COVID zero" policy that demands strict quarantine for international arrivals and various curbs on people's movement and local businesses in areas with clusters of infections.

The country has achieved an 89.7 per cent vaccination rate and given about 56 per cent of its 1.41 billion population a booster dose, according to official figures, but only 61 per cent of those aged 80 and above have finished their primary vaccination.

Aggressive pushes by frontline officials, including limiting access for the unvaccinated to public venues, triggered online backlash and were quickly reversed.

A major concern among the unvaccinated is the safety of shots being used in China, with anecdotes of post-vaccination severe disease stirring fear online and criticism over the lack of transparency of the government and Chinese vaccine makers.

"COVID vaccines do not cause leukaemia or diabetes, nor do they affect genetic development, cause tumour metastasis or antibody-dependent enhancement, and those are irresponsible, false information on the internet," Wang Fusheng, an infectious disease expert at a hospital affiliated with the Chinese military, said.

The rate of hospitalisation for diabetes and leukaemia were similar between 2018 and 2022, Wang told a news conference.

For those aged over 60, the complete primary vaccination using Chinese shots cut the risk of progressing to severe disease by 89 per cent, while a booster dose lowered the risk to 95 per cent, compared with the unvaccinated, Feng Zijian, an official at Chinese preventive Medicine Association, said.

The most-used Chinese shots were made by Sinovac and Sinopharm, with the country yet to approve foreign-made COVID-19 products.

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