German expats in China receive first foreign COVID vaccines

BEIJING, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Germans living in China began receiving the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, the first such rollout of a foreign coronavirus vaccine in a country that has not otherwise approved the use of non-Chinese vaccines even as infections soar.

Under an agreement reached during a visit to Beijing by Chancellor Olaf Scholz in November, Germans aged 12 and older may receive their first dose or a booster of the BioNTech vaccine at a designated international hospital in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou or Chengdu.

Marcus Wellendorf, 59, a documentary film maker, said he had received three doses of Chinese vaccines.

"Especially in the current situation, after China opened up very suddenly, I feel that an additional BioNTech booster is very comforting to have," he told Reuters at Beijing United Family Hospital, where 25 people had made bookings to be vaccinated.

More than 8,000 doses of the BioNTech (22UAy.DE) vaccine, which was developed with Pfizer and is being distributed under COMIRNATY branding, have been shipped to China and more than 1,500 people have registered their interest, Germany's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

About 14,000 German nationals live in China, according to the embassy.

German officials are "trying to expand the offer to other nationalities as well," its foreign ministry said.

China has so far insisted on using only domestically produced vaccines, shunning Western-made vaccines that use newer mRNA technology.

China, home to 1.4 billion people, abruptly abandoned its "zero-COVID" policy last month and infections are surging across a population with little immunity after being shielded since the virus emerged three years ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

On Tuesday, the European Union offered free COVID-19 vaccines to China. Asked whether Beijing would accept the offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China's vaccine supplies were adequate.

The arrangement allowing Germans in China to receive the BioNTech vaccine is reciprocal, and Chinese nationals living in Germany can also be vaccinated with China's SinoVac, a German government spokesperson said last month.

SinoVac did not immediately respond to an email query seeking comment.

Reporting by Joe Cash and Josh Arslan in Beijing and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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