China Plans To Boost Vaccinations Among Seniors As Harsh Zero Covid Strategy Triggers Protests

Topline

China’s National Health Commission on Tuesday unveiled plans to improve Covid-19 vaccination rates among the elderly—a cohort that remains highly vulnerable to the virus due to very low uptake of vaccines—as it faces growing calls from experts to rethink its zero Covid strategy and its narrow focus on harsh lockdowns and repeated mass testing.

Key Facts

In its plan, China’s National Health Commission said it intends to reach out to the elderly by setting up vaccination centers at nursing homes, elderly activity centers and other venues frequented by senior citizens.

Elderly people who refuse vaccination will have to provide a reason and officials will be required to keep a record of it.

The public health body has also ordered local officials to tap into various databases such as the ones keeping track of social security, medical insurance, and resident health records to effectively target seniors for vaccinations.

Other plans outlined include better monitoring for potential adverse reactions and publicizing the effectiveness of vaccines.

The announcement was welcomed by the markets, with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s Hang Seng Index jumping more than 5.2% and Shanghai’s Composite Index rising more than 2.3%

New Covid-19 cases continue to surge across China, which reported 38,645 new cases—both symptomatic and asymptomatic— on Tuesday, the fifth continuous day of more than 35,000 cases.

Big Number

65.7%. That is the percentage of people over the age of 80 who have been fully vaccinated in China, state-controlled newspaper China Daily reported earlier this month. Only 40% of them have received booster shots.

Key Background

With daily Covid-19 cases hitting new record highs in the past week, the effectiveness of China’s zero-Covid strategy has come under question. The government’s adherence to this strategy has limited its focus to implementing stringent lockdowns and continuous mass testing—something that has failed to contain the fast-spreading omicron variant. Experts have warned that the fast-spreading variant could rapidly overwhelm China’s healthcare system as vaccine uptake among vulnerable groups remains low. Multiple factors have contributed to the low vaccination rates among elders including China’s initial policy of limiting vaccine access to adults under the age of 60 and general skepticism about the efficacy and safety of the shot. Tuesday’s push to vaccinate the elderly may be the first sign that China is looking to exit the cycle of lockdowns and testing as public discontent against such measures continues to grow. Despite this, the government has moved to shut down all protests against its zero Covid measures which broke out across major Chinese cities—including Beijing and Shanghai—over the weekend. The zero Covid approach aims to stamp out the local spread of Covid through the use of stringent lockdowns and repeated mass testing.

Tangent

To prevent further protests against the government, many Chinese Universities have asked their students to leave their campuses and head back home, the Associated Press reported. Universities and colleges emerged as the epicenter of several protests across the country, in which students criticized the government and China’s leader Xi Jinping while calling for more freedom. According to Reuters, some people who participated in the protests are being questioned about their role. The protests are the biggest challenge faced by Xi in several years, after he secured an unprecedented third term in power last month.

Further Reading

China Pushes Elderly Vaccination as Reopening Pressure Grows (Bloomberg)

How China’s Zero-Covid Policy Failed To Prevent Record Infections And Triggered Rare Protests (Forbes)

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