China confirms top officials vaccinated as it seeks to reassure vaccine-sceptic

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Chinese anti-Covid vaccines are safe and have been given to the country's top leaders, Beijing's health authorities said Saturday, in a bid to reassure the population about their quality in the face of dwindling inoculation rates.

Using snap lockdowns, long quarantines and mass testing, China is the last major economy still pursuing the goal of eliminating outbreaks, even as its zero-Covid strategy takes a heavy toll on the economy.

But it has struggled to convince many Chinese people to get vaccinated -- especially the elderly -- with the relatively stable health situation and widespread fears over the quality of Chinese vaccines often blamed.

A year and a half since beginning its vaccination campaign in the country, Saturday's comments by Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, mark the first time that China has officially commented on the inoculation status of its leaders.

"All current leaders of the Communist Party and the state have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and they have all been vaccinated with vaccines produced in China," Zeng said, in comments indicating that President Xi Jinping is included in the group.

"This demonstrates that our leaders take the prevention and control of Covid-19 very seriously, and have great confidence in Chinese anti-Covid vaccines," he added.

According to Zeng, among those over 60, only 67.3 percent of people over 60 have received three doses, a rate that drops to 38.4 percent among those over 80.

Authorities are also working to defuse fears fueled by misinformation circulated online.

"Covid vaccines do not cause leukemia, diabetes" and "do not cause tumors to proliferate", Wang Fusheng, director of the infectious disease department at the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing, said Saturday.

The most used Chinese vaccines are those made by the private laboratory Sinovac and those made by state pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. Beijing has yet to authorize the use of foreign Covid vaccines on its soil.

China currently registers a few hundred new cases each day, with authorities moving quickly to quell outbreaks by instating localised confinements, and placing infected patients into mandatory quarantine.

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