China rushes to vaccinate seniors, but many are reluctant

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BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities are going door-to-door and paying people over 60 to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But even as cases riseLi Liansheng, 64, said friends were alarmed by stories of fever, blood clots and other side effects.

“When people hear about such incidents, they may not be willing to take the vaccines,” said Li, who had been vaccinated before catching COVID-19. A few days after her 10-day bout with the virus, Li has a sore throat and a cough. He said it was like a “normal cold” with a low fever.

China has joined other countries in handling cases rather than trying to eradicate transmission of the virus, eliminating or easing rules on testing, quarantines and movement as it tries to reverse an economic crisis. But the move has flooded hospitals with feverish, panting patients.

The National Health Commission announced a campaign on November 29 to increase the vaccination rate among older Chinese people., which health experts say is crucial to averting a health crisis. It is also the biggest hurdle before the ruling Communist Party can lift the last of the world’s strictest anti-virus restrictions.

China has kept the number of cases low for two years with a “zero-COVID” strategy that has locked down cities and confined millions of people to their homes. Now, in stepping back from that approachis facing the widespread outbreaks that other countries have experienced.

The health commission recorded just six deaths from COVID-19 this month, bringing the country’s official toll to 5,241. This is despite multiple reports of families of relatives dying.

China counts only deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure on its official COVID-19 number, a health official said last week. This unusually narrow definition excludes many deaths that other countries would attribute to COVID-19.

Experts have predicted 1 to 2 million deaths in China by the end of 2023.

Li, who was exercising in the leafy Temple of Heaven area in central Beijing, said he is considering getting a second booster due to the hype: “As long as we know that the vaccine will not cause major side effects, we should take it. ”

Neighborhood committees that form the lowest level of government have been ordered to find all people aged 65 and over and monitor their health. They are doing what state media calls “ideological work” of lobbying residents to persuade elderly relatives to get vaccinated.

In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidun neighborhood is promising people over 60 up to 500 yuan (US$70) to get a vaccination course with two doses and a booster.

The National Health Commission announced on Dec. 23 that the number of people vaccinated daily has more than doubled to 3.5 million nationwide. But that’s still a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of injections that were being administered every day in early 2021.

Older people are put off by the possible side effects of Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not announced test results in people aged 60 and older.

Li said a 55-year-old friend had a fever and blood clots after being vaccinated. He said he can’t be sure that the shot was to blame, but his friend is reluctant to get another one.

“It is also said that the virus keeps mutating”, Li said. “How do we know if the vaccines we take are helpful?”

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health complications, despite expert warnings that it is even more urgent that they get vaccinated because the risks of COVID-19 are more serious than the possible side effects of the vaccine in almost everyone.

A 76-year-old man who takes his daily walk through the Temple of Heaven with the help of a stick said he wants to be vaccinated but has diabetes and high blood pressure. The man, who only gave his last name, Fu, said he wears masks and tries to avoid crowds.

Older people also felt little urgency because the low number of cases before the latest surge meant few were at risk of infection. That earlier lack of infections, however, has left China with few people who have developed antibodies against the virus.

“Now, the families and relatives of the elderly must make it clear to them that an infection can cause serious illness and even death,” said Jiang Shibo, from the school of medicine at Fudan University in Shanghai.

More than 90% of people in China have been vaccinated, but only about two-thirds of people over 80, according to the National Health Commission. According to the 2020 census, China has 191 million people aged 65 and over – a group that alone would make it the eighth most populous country, ahead of Bangladesh.

“Coverage rates for people over 80 still need to be improved,” said the Shanghai newspaper The Paper. “The elderly are at high risk.”

Du Ming’s son arranged for the 100-year-old to be vaccinated, according to his caretaker, Li Zhuqing, who was pushing a face-masked Du through a park in a wheelchair. Li agreed with this approach because none of the family members have been infected, meaning they are more likely to bring the disease home to Du if they are exposed.

Health officials declined reporters’ requests to visit vaccination centers. Two who briefly entered the centers were ordered to leave when officials found out who they were.


AP researcher Yu Bing and video producers Olivia Zhang and Wayne Zhang contributed.