Editor's note: After three years of strenuous fighting to prevent a major COVID-19 outbreak that could have taken tens of thousands of lives, China has been lifting restrictions as the less lethal Omicron opens a way for greater social and economic recovery. But the battle is by no means over. CGTN is publishing a special series, "New Approaches," to reveal how the nation is recalibrating to guard the health of the people and the economy.
China now has been enhancing its COVID-19 vaccination as a priority especially among the vulnerable groups such as elders to further cement its protection for people against the virus.
This strategy is becoming more prominent as the country has loosened up its measures against the virus, which will help balance the epidemic control and social livelihoods.
The focus of the policies against COVID-19 should shift from "avoiding the spread of infections" to "preventing severe infections", according to Zhong Nanshan, China's top specialist in epidemiology and respiratory disease at a medical conference on December 9. He stressed that full vaccination plays a crucial role amid the country's newly-implemented optimized measures.
Zhong said the best way to strengthen people's immune system against COVID-19 is to receive a different vaccine as the second booster – which is developed by a different technology – to get maximum protection.
R&D started early
China has developed over a dozen COVID-19 vaccines. It made substantial progress of vaccine development in five different technologies including inactivated vaccine, viral vector vaccine, recombinant protein vaccine, live attenuated influenza vaccine and nucleic acid vaccine.
The country kick-started developing vaccines as early as the beginning of 2020 when it successfully isolated the first novel coronavirus strain amid the first wave of outbreak. It rolled out its first COVID-19 vaccine for public under conditional use on December 31, 2020, less than a year after the outbreak.
Three years into pandemic, China has approved 13 COVID-19 vaccines, including five inactivated vaccines, five recombinant protein vaccines, two viral vector vaccines and one live attenuated influenza vaccine. In terms of the receiving method, 11 of those are injections, one is inhalable and one a nasal spray.
The unconventional inhalable vaccine and the nasal spray have "simulated the natural infection", according to Zhu Tao, co-founder and chief scientific officer of CanSino Biologics Inc, where the drug induced a systemic protection, forming a first-line immune barrier to prevent the invasion of the virus in the respiratory tract.
The multiple vaccines came in handy as the nation launched its campaign for people to get the second booster. According to the plan announced by National Health Commission (NHC) on December 13, 2022, eight vaccines are eligible in the plan as the second booster since they are different vaccine types from the two inactivated vaccine from Sinopharm and Sinovac and one recombinant vaccine from CanSino – the majority of Chinese people received as their previous vaccination choices.
The protection against COVID-19 is "significantly boosted" after two different types of vaccines, Zhong said at the conference.
During the three years, China successfully carried out the vaccination to protect its people with the support of its advanced vaccine development while the virus has evolved along with many of its variants raging around the world.
By far, three of China-developed vaccines have been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). China also has the most inoculation plans for its domestically developed COVID-19 vaccines that are based on inactivated virus, viral vector and recombinant protein. A China-developed mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was granted permission for emergency use in Indonesia this September.
Enhancing vaccination of the elderly
China has been ramping up the vaccination among the elderly for boosted protection in anticipation of waves of COVID-19 infections as they are at the high risk of developing severe symptoms once infected.
As of November 28, 2022, 86 percent of those aged over 60 have received full vaccination while only about 65 percent of people aged over 80 completed full vaccination. About 25 million people aged over 60 haven't received vaccines yet.
Xia Gang, an official at the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control said the reasons behind it are because the elders lack the awareness and have concerns over the vaccine shots.
Zheng Zhongwei, head of vaccine research and development team of NHC explained in an interview "the safety of China's COVID-19 vaccine is equally safe to other existing vaccines," adding that data shows the adverse reactions rate of the seniors "can be even a bit lower than that among the young people."
China, with a population of 1.4 billion, has had administered nearly 3.46 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide and provided over 2 billion doses worldwide.