STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's get an update on vaccinations in the country where the coronavirus spread first. China has overcome the pandemic more quickly than other countries. But getting people vaccinated has been a struggle. NPR's Emily Feng asked why.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Across Beijing, long lines are forming for the country's first commercially approved coronavirus vaccine.
FENG: It's made by state firm Sinopharm. And Chinese companies and hospitals are now jostling to get their employees the vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED GUARD: (Non-English language spoken).
FENG: A guard at this Beijing vaccination site reassures the unvaccinated their turn will soon come. China is great at mobilizing hundreds of millions of people into home isolation or for mass COVID testing. But like many countries, China is struggling with vaccines. Less than 1.6% of people in China have been inoculated so far. And Beijing's goal is modest, to get about 50 million - or less than 4% - of people vaccinated by mid-February. Part of the reason is it's had very few outbreaks over the last few months.
YANZHONG HUANG: People perceived as low risk of COVID infection. So - you know, there are, really, not a lot of people, you know, that feel like it is urgency of getting vaccinated.
FENG: That's Yanzhong Huang, a public health expert at Seton Hall University. Right now, surveys show 60 to 80% of people in China are willing to be vaccinated. That's a problem. China needs to vaccinate basically everyone. That's because its two main vaccines are only between 50 and 80% effective. To inoculate 1.4 billion people with two-shot vaccines means manufacturing will be the biggest bottleneck.
HUANG: China made vaccines based on, you know, the inactivated viruses, you know? So - you know, that is subject to constraints of scale-up.
FENG: By contrast, mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna's are faster to make. China says it's made about 600 million shots already. Sinopharm says they're adding production lines to make another 1.8 billion COVID shots by the end of this year.
HUANG: But even based on that number, given the vast needs of domestic vaccination, you know, that number is still not sufficient.
FENG: And about 400 million of those doses have been promised to other countries. So for now, the vaccine is a hot commodity. Beijing is prioritizing health care and transportation workers. Unlike other countries, it is not vaccinating anyone above the age of 59 yet. Chinese students studying abroad can also be part of this lucky first batch to get the vaccine. Amy is one of them. She's hoping to get her second shot in Beijing soon so she can return to the U.K. for her master's program.
AMY: I think it's as normal as taking other vaccines that I have taken before.
FENG: Though, she did have some muscle soreness. Amy did not want to give a last name because her parents are government workers and could get in trouble because they pulled strings at Sinopharm to get her her second vaccine shot faster.
AMY: The reason why my mother, she found someone for me, is maybe there are too many people in Beijing want to take the vaccine. And she don't want me to queue for a very long time.
FENG: For others in China, they might have to wait to the end of this year before their turn comes. Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "MULLED WINE")
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