Teenage students in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong will be at the front of the line when the government starts vaccinating people against the H1N1 flu strain, Health Minister Chen Zhu announced Tuesday as he unveiled the guiding principles of the government's inoculation plan.
The nation's top drug authority ordered the release of the first batch of the H1N1 vaccine Tuesday, making China the first country in the world to be ready with a vaccine.
The first injections will be administered during October.
Those considered at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, which has so far infected 5,592 people across the Chinese mainland, will be the first to get the vaccine.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Chen said it was important to set out the priorities.
"With 1.3 billion people, we are limited in our ability to provide vaccines for all," Chen said. "Therefore, we have to continue with protective measures."
Chen warned that China faces an uphill battle in trying to contain the H1N1 virus.
The minister highlighted a rapid increase in domestic cases, after an initial period during which most infections in China were among people who arrived from foreign countries carrying the disease.
In the past week, 95 percent of newly confirmed H1N1 flu cases were domestic, he said.
Since late June, there has been a spike in the number of 'group infections', which now stands at 128.
Under the ministry's inoculation plan, healthy teenagers aged 15 to 19 in the hard-hit areas of Beijing, Shanghai and Guandgong, will be vaccinated first. Other vulnerable groups will follow, including people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, pregnant women, health care workers, border control officers, rail and aviation workers, soldiers and police.
Chen said the plan was "in line with the World Health Organization (WHO)'s suggestions".
Participants in the National Day Parade on Oct 1 will get their jabs before the national inoculation plan starts next month.
"The inoculation for them will kick off within the week. The vaccine takes two weeks to provide protection," Chen told China Daily yesterday.
The ministry plans to vaccinate 5 percent of the population by the end of the year.
Chen said there are contingency plans in place in case people suffer adverse effects from the vaccine.
And he reiterated that people should practice good hygiene, including regularly washing their hands.
The minister would not be drawn on whether China plans to sell the H1N1 vaccine to other countries, saying only that it could help other nations based on its capability.
But, he said, meeting domestic needs was the priority.
Vivian Tan, press officer with the WHO's Beijing office, said countries administering a vaccine should conduct intensive safety monitoring.
"Special safety issues may arise when a new vaccine is administered on a massive scale," she said. "Adverse effects that are too rare to show up in a large clinical trial could become apparent when much larger numbers of people receive the vaccine."
Zeng Guang, a senior epidemiologist at the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also urged the authorities to closely watch the vaccine's safety, effectiveness, and protection period.
Zeng said people should also be vaccinated against the seasonal flu.
"There should be a one-month interval between the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu shots," he said.