China races to vaccinate elderly, but many are reluctant

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

“When people learn about these incidents, they may not be willing to take the vaccines,” said Li, who had been vaccinated before contracting COVID-19. A few days into his 10-day bout with the virus, Li is nursing a sore throat and cough. He said it was like a “normal cold” with a mild fever.

China has joined other countries in dealing with cases rather than trying to eliminate transmission of the virus by removing or easing rules on testing, quarantines and movements as it tries to reverse an economic slump. But the change has flooded hospitals with feverish, wheezing patients.

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

China kept the number of cases low for two years with a “zero COVID” strategy that isolated cities and confined millions to their homes. Now, how does this approach backfireit faces widespread outbreaks that other countries have already experienced.

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

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

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

Li, who was exercising on the tree-lined grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, said he is considering getting a second booster because of the publicity campaign: “As long as we know the vaccine will not cause major side effects, we should take it .”

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

In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidun district promises people over 60 up to 500 yuan ($70) to receive a two-dose vaccination course and a booster.

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

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Older people are worried about possible side effects from Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not released test results on people over 60.

He told her that a 55-year-old friend suffered from fever and blood clots after being vaccinated. He said they can’t be sure the shot is to blame, but his friend is reluctant to get another one.

“The virus is also said to keep mutating,” Li said. “How do we know if the vaccines we take are useful?”

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health complications, despite warnings from experts that it’s 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 took his daily walk through the Temple of Heaven with the help of a cane said he wants to get vaccinated but has diabetes and high blood pressure. The man, who would only give 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 faced the risk of infection. However, this lack of previous infections left China with few people who have developed antibodies against the virus.

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

More than 90 percent of people in China have been vaccinated, but only about two-thirds of those over 80, according to the National Health Commission. According to its 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,” Shanghai news outlet The Paper said. “Elderly people 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 masked Du around a park in a wheelchair. Li agreed with this approach because none of the family members have been infected, which means they would be more likely to bring the disease home to Du if they were exposed.

Health officials refused reporters’ requests to visit vaccination centers. Two who entered the centers briefly were ordered to leave when employees learned who they were.


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


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