Chinese bank tries to entice wealthy customers with mRNA vaccines

A Chinese state-owned bank in Hong Kong is offering customers one shot of an mRNA vaccine if they make a deposit of HK$4mn (US$512,277), as it seeks to entice mainland clients who have until now only had access to locally produced jabs. .

The BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine is not widely available on the mainland but has long been available for free to permanent residents of Hong Kong and Macau as Beijing allowed the two territories to pursue a different vaccination strategy.

China Citic Bank International’s offer, which comes after mainland China removed cross-border restrictions with Hong Kong, illustrates Chinese citizens’ desire for western vaccines despite official criticism of the jabs. China has seen a surge in infections after that sudden reversal of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy last month.

The bank said that if new or existing customers deposit HK$4mn of fresh funds in an account, they are eligible for a BioNTech/Pfizer bivalent shot. Other benefits for account holders include access to a vaccine for hepatitis B, which is endemic in China, as well as a complimentary Bentley test drive and discounts at the city’s Four Seasons Hotel, popular with the mainland elite.

The bank said the promotion was “with an aim of providing cross-border customers a comprehensive array of wealth management services”.

The Chinese government has repeatedly stressed the efficacy of its local vaccines, many of which rely on older inactivated technology, and have refused to allow western-made vaccines to be widely distributed. Chinese media have repeatedly criticized the BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine and questioned its safety.

Meanwhile, other services have sprung up in recent weeks across Hong Kong to cater for demand from mainlanders for the mRNA shot.

Private clinics and some private hospitals offer vaccines for as much as HK$2,800 ($359) per dose. Virtus Medical Group, which will offer the vaccines to customers from January 16, said it has received “hundreds” of queries about the vaccines.

An insurance company from the mainland [asked] us about the service and [is] considering organizing group vaccination tours for [staff],” the clinic told the Financial Times. Another clinic, Swindon Medical, said their first batch of 100 jabs were already booked out.

Travel group Easson Holdings is also selling full service vaccine trips to Hong Kong. The packages include hotel and plane bookings, and chauffeured trips to vaccine clinics.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, the Chinese distributor of BioNTech’s Covid vaccines, last Friday started taking bookings from residents on the mainland who want to receive the jabs in Hong Kong. The company, which has been blocked from distributing the vaccine widely inside the mainland, charges a booking fee of Rmb299 ($44) before users to choose a time slot and a vaccination site.

Mainland Chinese tourists have also been vaccinated flocking to Macau for mRNA Covid jabs.

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