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China to provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge: official

China to provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge: official

China will provide COVID-19 vaccines for free once they are available to the general public, government authorities said on Saturday.

National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei said that while the manufacture and transportation of vaccines has costs, the government can provide vaccines for free to people.

"Our people don't have to pay a single penny for the vaccine," Zheng told a press event in Beijing.

China approved its first vaccine for general public use in late December. Three vaccines have already been administered to limited groups at high risk of infection, including medical workers, through an emergency use program.

The country expanded the vaccination schedule in mid-December to more key groups, such as employees in the food and public transportation sectors, in an effort to stem a resurgence in the winter and spring.

Those vaccines are also free for people, said National Health Commission official Zeng Yixin.

"We discovered that some local governments had charged individual fees, we ... demanded immediate rectification," Zeng said at the briefing, adding that since then local governments have successfully implemented the free vaccination policy.

China has administered more than 9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, Zeng said. Of that total, more than 7 million have been administered since mid-December.

Nearly 140,000 people in Hebei province have taken doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Cui Gang, an official with the National Health Commission, part of China's vaccination scheme targeting specific groups at high risk of infection.

The provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has become a new transmission hotbed. Local authorities suspended public transportation throughout the city in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

"At present, Hebei Province should accelerate progress as soon as possible and complete the vaccination of key groups as soon as possible," Cui said.

(Information from Yew Lun Tian, ​​Roxanne Liu, and Martin Pollard in Beijing; written by Josh Horwitz; edited by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin)

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