China’s vaccination timeline

China’s vaccinating now. Not that quickly compared to their
population size but very quickly compared to a month ago. Evaluating the time
series of Chinese dose levels, why it took so long to hit the on button remains
a mystery, as does why the PRC seemed to export first and inoculate at home
second. And it’s still the case that China will be fully vaccinated long after
the US.

The timeline, according to China’s National Health Commission:

  • June: Approval for emergency use only.
  • December 15: Mass vaccination began.
  • December 21: More than 1 million doses administered on an emergency basis.
  • January 4: 4.5 million total doses administered, more than a 3 million-dose increase in 14 days, or possibly delayed reporting.
  • January 11: 9.1 million doses, a 4.6 million-dose increase in seven days if the previous figure was up to date.
  • January 21: More than 15 million doses, a 6 million-dose increase in 12 days.

This was a reasonable series, showing slow rollout on an
emergency basis, then uneven acceleration at the start of the mass rollout. But
the next update didn’t appear for more than a month and referred to numbers
from two weeks earlier.

  • February 24: As of February 9, 40.5 million doses, a 25 million-dose increase in 20 days.
  • March 5: Leading Chinese vaccine provider Sinopharm claimed it had provided 100 million doses to other countries, with 60 million used.
  • March 16: China itself reported 65 million doses administered, a 25 million-dose increase in 34 days.

As expected, the pace of administration initially accelerated. But then there was a clear slowdown in domestic dose numbers, while more Chinese vaccines were said to have been used overseas than at home. This gave rise to questions about whether China was slow because it had controlled COVID-19 or because ordinary people were unwilling, and even speculation (by me) that the government didn’t like the vaccines on hand in February.

If any of those explanations for five weeks of bizarrely
slow inoculation were accurate, they didn’t look accurate barely a week later.

  • March 22: Nearly 75 million doses, a 10 million-dose increase in six days. This was just a return to the pace of late January and early February and not impressive.
  • March 24: 82.8 million doses, nearly an 8 million-dose increase in two days. Instantly (if belatedly), this was the kind of pace China must have given its huge population.

Near-daily updates finally begin the last few days of March.
China now wants to speak loudly about vaccination.

  • March 29: 102.4 million doses, nearly a 20 million-dose increase in five days. The pace from a week before holds.
  • March 31: 111 million doses.
  • April 2: 119.8 million doses.
  • April 5: 136.7 million doses.
  • April 7: 142.8 million doses. The pace accelerated mildly to 4.5 million doses per day.

What happened March 23 (or so)? China reported no change in
COVID-19 spread, yet vaccination finally became a high priority. Ordinary
people were suddenly willing to take vaccines? The government didn’t want to
inoculate in early March, yet did in late March? Rising supply is an obvious
possibility, but the world’s top manufacturer, having started production in
mid-2020, shouldn’t take nearly this much time to get up to speed.

The distribution is somewhat illuminating. The national dose level just passed one per 10 people during the first week of April. Even Guangdong, the most economically important province, hadn’t reached one in 10 by the end of March. Meanwhile, the city of Beijing reported 16.7 million doses the first week of April — seven doses per 10 people. The rollout for the politically important was plenty fast.

For others, the journey will be long. Not everyone will be inoculated and one-shot vaccines may become important, but China will need over 2 billion doses. At the current pace, this is more than a year away. If boosters are required — already happening with Chinese vaccines used elsewhere — that could be many additional months. The PRC needs another gear for doses per day.

In comparison, the US just hit 4 million doses per day and is unlikely to have a higher gear. But the population difference means America has passed one dose per two people and, at present rates, could be done in four months. It’s extremely odd in this situation that China is the country boasting about providing vaccines to others. Dictatorships get away with things democracies can’t, but it doesn’t mean they’re winning.