European Chamber Stance on COVID-19 Vaccine Go back »

2021-02-10 | All chapters

European Chamber Stance on COVID-19 Vaccine

European businesses require greater transparency regarding the inclusion of their staff in China’s COVID-19 vaccination implementation programme, as well as if and how vaccinations will impact international travel.

Over the past year, companies and governments all over the world have been racing to develop vaccines. So far, three vaccines—Comirnaty (BioNTech/Pfizer), COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca and COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna—have received conditional marketing authorisation for use in the European Union following evaluation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).[1] Inoculation is now taking place across member states.

Mass vaccination campaigns with newly-developed drugs bring immense challenges for any national healthcare system. Limited production capacities, for example, require the prioritisation of certain risk groups, with precedence given to  those deemed high-risk based on their age, medical history or professional exposure, and sufficient medical personnel has to be available to give the vaccines.

In China, the domestically-developed Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have been authorised for use by the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA),[2] with the national inoculation campaign starting in the fourth quarter of 2020. Nine groups are currently being prioritised, including those engaging in work related to international and domestic transportation, medical staff and individuals who need to go abroad to work or study. However, local government announcements in many cities have expressly excluded foreign nationals without any explanation or justification. At the same time, there are some reports of foreigners being offered a vaccination through their employers, while other companies have been invited to have their staff vaccinated with the exception of foreign staff. The situation is confusing and leads to the impression that selection is not being made based on objective criteria.

Although this exclusion may be due to administrative or technical issues (e.g., foreign nationals not being covered by Chinese healthcare insurance), foreign residents in China are equally at risk of contracting the virus as the domestic population. The current lack of transparency and communication makes this exclusion appear discriminatory and also gives rise to fears that it may lead to further xenophobic sentiments among the Chinese population if it is known that foreign residents have not been inoculated.

An additional issue is that for European businesses and their employees, the availability of vaccines has raised expectations that certain restrictions on international travel may be lifted for those who have received a vaccine. However, this requires that a vaccination in one country is also recognised in the country of destination. Currently it is not clear whether this will be the case for travellers between the EU and China, as they have approved different vaccines. News that Chinese diplomatic missions overseas are asking for vaccination details of visa applicants is encouraging, as they will help explain positive serological results. However, there is no indication whether it will become easier for those who have received a vaccination approved in the EU to apply for a Chinese visa.

It is encouraging to see that in less than a year so many companies successfully developed vaccines. It is now crucial that governments work closely together to allow for a rapid world-wide inoculation of the population, and that access to vaccines is not politicised.

Recommendations

For China

  • Clarify the current arrangements for the national vaccination programme and grant access to vaccines for foreign nationals in China.
  • Clarify whether entry restrictions will be reduced or lifted for travellers who have been vaccinated in China or overseas.

For the EU and China

  • Facilitate the authorisation of the best vaccines regardless of where they were developed.

 


[1] https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/human-regulatory/overview/public-health-threats/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/treatments-vaccines/treatments-vaccines-covid-19-authorised-medicines

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Yichi Zhang