Berlin’s initial shipment of BioNTech (22UAy.DE) The first foreign coronavirus vaccine to be brought to the nation, COVID-19, will be given to German expatriates in China at first, a German government official announced on Wednesday.
The official said Berlin is lobbying for foreigners other than German nationals, estimated at roughly 20,000, to be permitted access to the shot if they want it. However, no information was given regarding the time or magnitude of the delivery.
The shipment comes after China agreed to allow German nationals in China to get the shot following a deal during Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit in Beijing last month, with the German leader pressing for Beijing to allow the shot to be made freely available to Chinese citizens as well.
In a letter to be sent to German citizens in mainland China, the government said it would offer basic immunizations and booster shots of vaccines approved for use in the European Union for free to anyone over 12 years of age.
Family members of other nationalities would not be included. Vaccinations for children under 12 may follow at a later date.
“We are working on the possibility that besides Germans also other foreigners can be vaccinated with BioNTech,” the spokesperson told journalists in Berlin.
The shots will be delivered to German companies in China as well as embassy locations and talks are underway with other EU governments about getting them to citizens of other nationalities, a source familiar with the situation said.
China would need to approve expanding access beyond German nationals, the source said.
In return, Chinese citizens in Europe can be vaccinated with China’s SinoVac (SVA.O), the spokesperson said.
The comment comes after a report earlier this month that Germany’s health ministry had granted a permit allowing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to be imported to Germany to be given to Chinese citizens in that country.
The shot has not been approved for use by Europe’s drug regulator, but the World Health Organization has given its green light for its use.
Beijing has so far insisted on using only domestically produced vaccines, which are not based on the Western mRNA technology but on more traditional technologies.
The shipment comes amid Beijing dismantling its strict “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns, which has led to a surge of cases that caught a fragile health system unprepared.
Experts predict that the country of 1.4 billion people could face more than a million COVID deaths next year.
Allowing German expats access to a Western shot is a big gesture to Berlin, reflecting Beijing’s effort to strengthen ties with EU’s biggest economy after years of tensions over trade and climate between the two countries.
Shares in BioNTech rose on news of the shipment, closing 2.3% higher in Frankfurt while Pfizer shares in New York were up 1.25% in late morning New York trade.
BioNTech was not immediately available to comment on the situation on Wednesday.