As of Wednesday, China administered more than 700 million doses, with half of those doses given in May alone. The number represents about a third of shots distributed globally.
China received emergency approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) for its Sinopharm vaccine on May 7 – making it just one of six vaccines at the organization’s disposal – but health officials had previously admitted that the vaccines developed by China were not highly effective.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” China Centers for Disease Control director Gao Fu said at a conference in April.
Initial reports claimed that the Sinopharm vaccine had a 79% efficacy, but foreign trials of another Chinese vaccine, the Sinovac vaccine, found efficacy would be as low as a 50% rate.
WHO data based on trials from Saudi Arabia, who received doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, appears to support the initial 79% efficacy claim, allowing China to hit the aggressive level of vaccination it has displayed in recent weeks.
In early May, China was administering around 7 million doses daily; that number more than doubled by last week, with over 15 million doses administered daily in the final week of May.
Current estimates put the number at around 19 million shots per day, according to Our World in Data’s rolling seven-day average.
“The Communist Party has people all the way down to every village, every neighborhood,” said Ray Yip, former country director for the Gates Foundation in China and a public health expert. “That’s the draconian part of the system, but it also gives very powerful mobilization.”
Around 87% of the population in Beijing, the capital, have received at least the first shot of a vaccine. The government even mobilized vaccination buses to high foot-traffic areas, including the city center and malls.
Some local media reports, however, indicate difficulty acquiring vaccine doses in more distant areas.
Central government officials on Monday said they’re working to ensure supply is more evenly distributed. Although there are distribution issues, it is unlikely that Chinese manufacturers will have problems with scale, according to analysts and those who have worked in the industry.
“What place in the world can compare with China on construction? How long did it take our temporary hospitals to be built?” asked Li Mengyuan, who leads pharmaceutical research at Western Securities, a financial firm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.