China is racing to vaccinate the elderly, but many are reluctant

China is racing to vaccinate the elderly, but many are reluctant

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

“When people hear about such incidents, they may be reluctant to take the vaccines,” said Li, who was vaccinated before contracting COVID-19. A few days into his 10-day battle with the virus, Li is treating a sore throat and cough. He said it was like a “normal cold” with a slight fever.

China has joined other countries in treating cases rather than trying to eliminate transmission of the virus by removing or relaxing testing, quarantine and movement rules as it tries to reverse the economic downturn. But the shift flooded hospitals with patients with fevers and wheezing.

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

China has kept cases low for two years with a “zero COVID” strategy that has isolated cities and confined millions of people to their homes. Now, since deviates from this approachit faces the widespread outbreaks that other countries have already gone through.

The Health Commission has recorded just six deaths from COVID-19 this month, bringing the country’s official tally to 5,241. This is despite multiple reports from families of deceased relatives.

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

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

Li, who trained on the green grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, said he was considering getting a second booster because of the advertising campaign: “As long as we know the vaccine won’t cause major side effects, we should take it.”

Neighborhood committees, which form the lowest level of government, are ordered to find everyone 65 and over and monitor their health. They carry out what state media call “ideological work” to lobby residents to persuade elderly relatives to get vaccinated.

In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidong district promises people over 60 up to 500 yuan ($70) to get a course of vaccination with two doses and one booster.

The National Health Commission announced on December 23 that the number of people being vaccinated daily has doubled to 3.5 million across the country. But that’s still a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of vaccines being administered each day in early 2021.

Older people are dismayed by the potential side effects of Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not released test results on people 60 and older.

Li said a 55-year-old friend had a fever and blood clots after being vaccinated. He said they couldn’t be sure the shot was the culprit, but his friend didn’t want to get another one.

“It has also been said the virus continues to mutateLi said. “How do we know if the vaccines we’re getting are working?”

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health complications, despite warnings from experts that it is even more urgent to get vaccinated because the risks of COVID-19 outweigh the potential side effects of the vaccine in nearly all.

A 76-year-old man who makes his daily walk around 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 would only give his last name Fu, said he wears masks and tries to avoid crowds.

Older people also felt a bit of urgency, as the low number of cases before the latest spike meant few faced the risk of infection. However, this earlier lack of infections has left China with few people who have developed antibodies to the virus.

“Now the families and relatives of the elderly need to make it clear to them that the infection can cause serious illness and even death,” said Jiang Shibo of 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 the 2020 census, China has 191 million people aged 65 and over, a group that would itself be the eighth most populous country, ahead of Bangladesh.

“Coverage rates for people over 80 still need to be improved,” said Shanghai-based 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 Juqing, who pushed Du, wearing a face mask, through a park in a wheelchair. Li agreed to this approach because none of the family members were infected, meaning they were more likely to carry the disease to Du’s home if exposed.

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


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

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