China races to vaccinate elderly, but many are reluctant

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese officials are paying people over the age of 60 to go door-to-door to get a Covid-19 vaccine. But even as cases increaseLi Liansheng, 64, said his friends were alarmed by stories of fever, blood clots and other side effects.

“If people hear about such incidents, they may not be willing to take vaccines,” said Li, who was vaccinated before catching Covid-19. Days after a 10-day battle with the virus, Li is nursing a sore throat and cough. He said it looked like a “normal cold” with a mild fever.

Instead of trying to stem the spread of the virus by abandoning or relaxing rules on testing, quarantines and movement while trying to reverse the economic downturn, China has joined other countries in treating cases. But this change has left hospitals overflowing with feverish, shortness of breath patients.

The National Health Commission announced a campaign on November 29 to boost vaccination rates among elderly Chinese, health experts say is critical to avoiding a health care crisis. It is the biggest hurdle before the ruling Communist Party lifts 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 quarantined cities and confined millions of people to their homes. Now, it’s backing away from that approachIt faces widespread outbreaks that other countries have already gone through.

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The health authority has recorded only six COVID-19 deaths this month, bringing the country’s official toll to 5,241. That is despite several reports of dead relatives.

China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory disease In its official COVID-19 count, a health official said last week. That unusually narrow definition excludes many deaths attributed to COVID-19 in other countries.

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

Exercising in the leafy grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, Lee said he was considering getting a second booster because of the publicity campaign: “Until we know the vaccine won’t cause major side effects, we have to take it. .”

The government’s lowest-level neighborhood groups have been ordered to identify and monitor the health of all those aged 65 and over. State media called it “ideological work” to lobby residents to persuade elderly relatives to get vaccinated.

In the Chinese capital, Beijing, the Liulitun neighborhood offers up to 500 yuan ($70) for over-60s to receive two doses of the vaccine and a booster.

The National Health Commission announced on December 23 that the number of people vaccinated daily has doubled to 3.5 million across the country. But by early 2021, that’s just a small fraction of the millions of shots administered each day.

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Older people have been put off by the potential side effects of Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not announced results of trials on people 60 and older.

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

“It is also said that the virus is constantly changing” Li said. “How do we know if the vaccines we take are effective?”

Despite experts warning that vaccination is still urgent because some people have diabetes, heart problems and other health problems, some are reluctant because the risks of Covid-19 are more serious than the vaccine’s side effects.

The 76-year-old man, who walks daily around the Temple of Heaven with the help of a stick, said he would like to be vaccinated but has diabetes and high blood pressure. The man, who would only give his surname Fu, said he was trying to avoid crowds by wearing masks.

The elderly also felt little urgency, as their low numbers before the latest surge faced the risk of infection. However, a lack of previous epidemics has left China with few people who have developed antibodies against the virus.

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

According to the National Health Commission, more than 90% of people in China are vaccinated, but only two-thirds of those over 80 years old. According to its 2020 census, China has 191 million people aged 65 and over – a group that would make it the eighth most populous country behind Bangladesh.

“Coverage rates for the over-80s still need to be improved,” Shanghai news agency The Paper said. “The elderly are at greater risk.”

Du Ming’s son arranges to vaccinate the 100-year-old, while his caretaker, Li Zhuqing, pushes the masked Du through the park in a wheelchair. Li agreed with that approach because none of the family members were infected, meaning they were more likely to bring the disease home to Du if they were exposed.

Health officials refused reporters’ requests to visit vaccination centers. Staff found two people who had briefly entered the centers and were ordered to leave.


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


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