- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2021

Chinese officials announced this week they have begun mass vaccinations against the coronavirus pandemic but are limiting shots to people aged 18 to 59, leaving the elderly in the lurch, according to state media.

The vaccination program limits those receiving the shots against COVID-19 for now to people under 59, Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing told the Communist Party-linked China Daily newspaper.

Elderly Chinese and other vulnerable groups will be vaccinated at a later time, she was quoted as saying.

Pregnant women and those breastfeeding also cannot take the China-produced vaccine, along with people suffering from immune deficiencies or disorder; those with severe liver or kidney diseases; uncontrolled hypertension; diabetic complications or malignant tumors, she said.

The comments diverged from those of a Chinese official who said two weeks ago the elderly would be given priority, once a vaccine is approved. COVID-19 is assessed by disease experts to be more deadly to those aged 70 and above.

Most countries have targeted the elderly and at-risk health care workers for the first wave of vaccinations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on its website that “people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s.”

Those over 85 and older are at greatest risk from the disease for severe illness, defined as requiring hospitalization and intensive care, such as a chest ventilator for breathing, the CDC said.

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission and director of State Council’s vaccine research and development working group, said earlier that the elderly were among those slated to receive the vaccine once it is approved.

“Following the conditional approval today, and in particular, with the gradual increase in the production capacity of vaccines, we will promote vaccination among groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 such as the elderly and those with other medical conditions, and then a universal vaccination will follow,” he said Dec. 19, according to the Associated Press.

Beijing says it has vaccinated over 73,000 people since Friday amid news reports of an outbreak of a new strain of the disease in several Chinese cities.

The pandemic began in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and spread globally after Chinese authorities failed to limit travel from the city during the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year this year begins Feb. 12.

According to state media, Chen Shifei, China’s top drug regulator, told a news conference Sunday that the vaccine, produced by Sinopharm, had been given preliminary approval, and that it is 79% effective.

China Daily said that China has been leading in research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and developed a total of 14 vaccines, five of which are in final trials. The Sinopharm vaccine was put into emergency use in June with more than 4.5 million doses given to medical workers and those traveling to work overseas.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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