BEIJING (Reuters) - China will provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge once they become available to the general public, government authorities said on Saturday.
National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei said that while manufacturing and transport of vaccines have costs, the government can provide vaccines for free to individuals.
“Our people don’t have to pay a single cent for the vaccine,” Zheng told a press event in Beijing.
China in late December approved its first vaccine for general public use. Three vaccines had already been given to limited groups at high risk of infection, including medical workers, through an emergency-use program.
The country widened the inoculation scheme in mid-December to more key groups such as employees in the food and public transport sectors, in an effort to stem a resurgence in the winter and spring.
Those vaccinations are also free for individuals, said National Health Commission official Zeng Yixin.
“We had found some local governments had charged individuals fees, we ... demanded immediate rectification,” Zeng told the briefing, adding that local governments have since properly implemented the free vaccination policy.
China has administered more than 9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, Zeng said. Of that total, over 7 million were administered since mid-December.
Nearly 140,000 people in Hebei province have taken COVID-19 vaccine doses, said Cui Gang, a National Health Commission official, part of China’s vaccination scheme targeting specific groups of high infection risk.
The province’s capital, Shijiazhuang, has emerged as a new hotbed for transmission. Local authorities suspended public transportation across the city in an effort to curb the virus’ spread.
“At present, Hebei Province should speed up the progress as soon as possible and complete vaccinating key groups as soon as possible,” Cui said.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Roxanne Liu, and Martin Pollard in Beijing; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin
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