According to China's top medical experts, not everyone in the country will need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as Beijing wants to prioritize frontline workers and high-risk populations in a move that shows confidence among policy-makers of their ability to contain the pandemic.

No vaccine for the public

Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, said that since the first wave of COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China has already survived the impact of COVID-19 numerous times. Fu said at the vaccine summit in the city of Shenzhen on September 12, according to China News Service.

Fu added that the question of vaccinating the public was one of balancing the risks and benefits and pointed to the factors like cost and potential side effects.

There is no need for mass vaccination at this stage, but that could change in the future if another serious outbreak takes place, according to Fu.

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The policy makes China different from many Western governments, especially Australia, that have outlined plans to introduce mass public vaccination drives.

Since the spring, China's coronavirus cases have stayed low. There have been a few flare-ups like in the northeastern Jilin province in May and an outbreak in Beijing in June, but these were met with immediate strict lockdown measures and mass testing, so the outbreaks were contained within a few days.

Fu cited these outbreaks as evidence of China's effective containment measures. According to China News Service, Fu said that the facts have proven that they have "several magic weapons to respond to the epidemic."

Any potential vaccine would be used by the front lines. Fu said they are the medical workers, Chinese nationals working overseas in virus hotspots, and people working in dense, high-risk environments like schools, restaurants, or cleaning services.

On September 12, China's National Health Commission only recorded ten new symptomatic confirmed cases, and all are imported from overseas.

NHC also reported 70 new asymptomatic cases, which are counted separately, all of them are also imported from overseas.

Race for a vaccine

Despite Fu's comments, China has been one of the biggest players in the global race to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of vaccines, and they can supply more than 1 billion doses of vaccine every year from 40 manufacturers across the country, according to the 2018-2022 China Human Vaccine Industry Report.

There are more than 30 vaccines that are in human trials globally, and nine of them are from China. Four of the nine vaccine candidates are in the late-stage trials and are being developed by Chinese companies. 

Last week, the University of Hong Kong announced that clinical trials had been approved for a nasal spray vaccine, developed in collaboration with mainland Chinese researchers.

China has already pushed forward vaccines before they are proven effective. In June, China approved an experimental vaccine for use by its military.

In July, China has been using a different experimental vaccine on people who work in high-risk jobs like medical professionals and border agents. Neither vaccine has completed Phase 3 trials.

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