China is expecting strong demand for flu shots in the coming months and will make up to 50 million doses available, an official with the agency in charge of vaccines said.
Zhang Hui, deputy director of China’s National Institutes for Food and Drug Control, said people were concerned about the coming flu season amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that there was more public acceptance of vaccination.
“[We have] so far released over 30 million doses of flu shots this year and the final number may reach 50 million when the influenza season begins next month,” Zhang told an industry forum on Sunday, according to Shanghai-based news site ThePaper.
But he said while the agency had stepped up inspection checks – required for all vaccines before they can enter the market – other factors such as constraints on production could affect the supply of flu shots.
In China, about 30 million flu shots are usually given each year, covering 2 per cent of the population, according to official data. The vaccines are distributed by the government to medical organisations.
Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, has previously warned that China – which has brought its coronavirus outbreak under control – still faces the double threat of Covid-19 and influenza this autumn and winter, and he advised people to get flu shots.
“There is a high probability that the two respiratory illnesses will surge at the same time,” Zeng told a conference in July, according to mainland media reports.
Many Chinese have already taken that advice. In the central province of Henan, Sunny Ni, a 33-year-old mother, went with her two daughters to get flu jabs at a clinic in Pingdingshan on Monday.
Ni said she was aware of the vaccine safety scandals in China in the past decade, but she still thought getting immunised was the safest option. “I still felt compelled to get the flu shots,” she said. “I was worried they will be in short supply this year.”
A spokesman for Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech – which has also developed an experimental coronavirus vaccine – said producers relied on chicken eggs to make influenza vaccines, and they were usually prepared months in advance, meaning their ability to boost production could be limited.
“This year, because people are concerned about influenza and the Covid-19 pandemic, [vaccine] producers and the government are both trying to increase supply,” spokesman Liu Peicheng said, but he declined to say how many flu shots Sinovac would produce this year.
Liu added that 50 million flu shots may not be enough to meet demand in China. He noted that they were generally not provided for free, but some cities had free vaccine programmes for at-risk groups such as the elderly.
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