As COVID-19 continues to circulate across much of the world, China is feeling the effects of an insecure vaccination strategy into 2023. However, the Financial Times reported that, ahead of a meeting in January, the EU has extended the offer of vaccines to support renewed efforts after an end to the turbulent “zero-COVID” strategy. This comes just days after a meeting between WHO and China on the surge in cases.  

WHO and China meet 

On 30th December 2022 a “high-level meeting” between WHO and China took place to ensure that both sides were informed and supported on the worrying rise in cases. Officials from China’s National Health Commission and the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration briefed WHO on the “evolving strategy”. WHO reportedly emphasised the need for “sharing of specific and real0time data” on the epidemiological situation as well as the vaccination situation.  

“WHO reiterated the importance of vaccination and boosters to protect against severe disease and death for people at higher risk.”  

Furthermore, the organisation highlighted the need to “strengthen viral sequencing, clinical management, and impact assessment”. Officials expressed “willingness” to collaborate in these areas as well as on “risk communications on vaccination”.  

“Chinese scientists are invited to engage more closely in WHO-led COVID-19 expert networks including the COVID-19 clinical management network.”

One of the main difficulties involved in supporting, and indeed understanding, China’s COVID-19 situation, is poor communication between Chinese and international health experts. As we enter another year of COVID-19 consequences it will be important that this improves.

The EU extends support 

Days after the WHO meeting, anonymous European Commission officials indicated that the offer of free vaccines had been made to China. This is in anticipation of a wave of infections after the end of the contentious “zero-COVID” policy. One official told the Financial Times that Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides had “reached out” to Chinese counterparts with ‘solidarity and support”. This will be demonstrated in “expertise as well as through variant-adapted EU vaccine donations”.  

Despite this offer, China’s mission to the EU remains firm that the country has had good vaccine coverage. Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s Head of Health Emergencies, disagreed. He described inadequate protection in “such a large population, with so many people in a vulnerable setting”. The contrast between general EU vaccination and vaccination in China is further cause for concern with the lifting of travel restrictions.  

For more on COVID-19 vaccination strategies from global health experts come to the World Vaccine Congress in Washington this April!