- A batch of BioNTech photos on its way to China
- German citizens will be shot; Berlin is pushing for wider use
- The shipment follows Scholz’s visit to China last month
- It comes as infections rise in the world’s No. 2 economy
BERLIN, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Berlin has shipped its first batch of BioNTech (22UAy.DE) China’s COVID-19 vaccines will be administered initially to German expatriates, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday, the first foreign coronavirus vaccine to be delivered to the country.
There were no details on the timing or size of the delivery, although the spokesman said Berlin was insisting that foreigners other than German citizens, estimated at around 20,000, be given access to the footage if they wanted it.
The shipment comes after China agreed to allow German citizens in China to get a chance after a deal under Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing last month, with the German leader demanding that Beijing allow the footage to be freely available to Chinese citizens as well.
In a letter to be sent to German citizens in mainland China, the government said it would offer free basic immunizations and booster shots of vaccines approved for use in the European Union to anyone over the age of 12.
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 that in addition to Germans, other foreigners can be vaccinated with BioNTech,” the spokesman told reporters in Berlin.
The injections will be delivered to German companies in China as well as embassies, and talks are underway with other EU governments to provide them to citizens of other nationalities, a source familiar with the situation said.
China would have to approve expanding access beyond German citizens, the source said.
In return, Chinese citizens in Europe can be vaccinated with China’s SinoVac (SVA.O)the spokesman said.
The comment comes after report earlier this month, the German Ministry of Health issued a permit allowing China’s Sinovac vaccine against COVID-19 to be imported into Germany to be given to Chinese nationals in that country.
The injection has not been approved for use by the European medicines regulator, but World Health Organization gave the go-ahead for its use.
Until now, Beijing has insisted that only domestically produced vaccines, which are not based on Western mRNA technology, but on more traditional technologies, be used.
The shipment comes amid the lifting of Beijing’s strict “zero COVID” lockdown regime, which led to a surge in cases that caught the fragile health system off guard.
Experts predict the country of 1.4 billion people could face more than one million deaths from COVID next year.
Allowing German expats access to a Western photo is a big gesture to Berlin, reflecting Beijing’s efforts to boost ties with the EU’s biggest economy after years of trade and climate tensions between the two countries.
Shares of BioNTech rose on news of the delivery, closing 2.3 percent higher in Frankfurt, while Pfizer shares in New York rose 1.25 percent in late morning trading in New York.
BioNTech was not immediately available to comment on the situation Wednesday.
NO WESTERN SHOT
China has nine domestically developed COVID vaccines approved for use, more than any other country. But none have been updated to target the highly contagious Omicron variant, as have Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (MRNA.O) there are for boosters in many developed countries.
The two injections developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the most widely used in the world.
At the start of the pandemic, BioNTech struck a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (600196.SS) with a view to delivering the shots to greater China.
Although the photos have become available in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the regulatory review for mainland China has not been completed. BioNTech said the decision was up to Chinese regulators and gave no reason for the delay.
China’s zero-covid policy and lockdown measures have kept death and infection rates to a minimum in recent months, but have caused massive disruption to both the domestic market and global trade and supply chains.
China uses a narrow definition of COVID deaths and reports no new deaths for Tuesdayeven surpassing one of its total since the start of the pandemic, now at 5,241 – a fraction of the casualties of much, much less populated countries.
The National Health Commission said Tuesday that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus are classified as COVID deaths.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Alexander Ratz and Christian Kremer; additional reporting by Danilo Massoni in Milan and Amanda Cooper in London; Writing by Miranda Murray; Editing by Josephine Mason and David Evans
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