BEIJING — Chinese authorities are going door-to-door paying people over the age of 60 to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But even as cases rise, Li Liansheng, 64, said her friends are alarmed by stories of fever, blood clots and other side effects.
“When people find out about such incidents, they may not be willing to take the vaccinessaid Li, who had been vaccinated before contracting COVID-19. A few days into his 10-day fight with the virus, Li has a sore throat and cough. He said it was like a “normal cold” with a mild fever.
China has joined other countries in treating cases rather than trying to end transmission of the virus by removing or easing rules on testing, quarantine and movement as it tries to reverse an economic downturn. But the change has flooded hospitals with feverish and wheezing patients.
The National Health Commission announced a campaign on November 29 to increase the vaccination rate among Chinese seniors, who Health Experts say it’s crucial to avoid a health care 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 kept the number of cases low for two years with a “zero COVID” strategy that locked down cities and confined millions of people to their homes. Now, as it backtracks on that approach, it is facing the widespread outbreaks that other countries have already suffered.
The health commission has recorded just six deaths from COVID-19 this month, bringing the country’s official number to 5,241. That’s despite multiple reports of relatives of relatives dying.
China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 balance sheet, a health official said last week. That unusually narrow definition excludes many deaths that other countries would attribute to COVID-19.
Experts have predicted 1 to 2 million deaths in Porcelain until the end of 2023.
Li, who was exercising on the leafy grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, said he is considering a second booster because of the publicity campaign: “As long as we know the vaccine won’t cause major side effects, we should take it.” .”
Neighborhood committees that form the lowest level of government have been ordered to find everyone over the age of 65 and monitor their health. They are doing what the state media calls the “ideological work” of lobbying residents to persuade their elderly relatives to get vaccinated.
In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidun neighborhood promises people over the age of 60 up to 500 yuan ($70) to get 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 small fraction of the tens of millions of injections that were administered every day in early 2021.
Older people are put off by the potential side effects of Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not announced test results in people 60 and older.
Li said a 55-year-old friend suffered from a 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 is even more urgent for them to get vaccinated because the risks of COVID-19 outweigh the potential side effects of the vaccine. in almost all.
A 76-year-old man who walked daily 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 gave only 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, that earlier lack of infections left China with few people who have developed antibodies to the virus.
“Now, 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, of Fudan University’s medical school in Shanghai.
More than 90% 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 be the eighth most populous country, ahead of Bangladesh.
“Coverage rates for people over 80 still need to be improved,” said Shanghai news outlet The Paper. “The elderly are at high risk.”
Du Ming’s son arranged to have the 100-year-old vaccinated, according to his caretaker, Li Zhuqing, who was pushing Du in a face mask in a wheelchair through a park. Li agreed with that approach because none of the family members have been infected, meaning they are more likely to bring the disease to Du if they were exposed.
Health officials declined requests by reporters to visit vaccination centers. Two who briefly entered the centers were ordered to leave when employees found out who they were.
AP researcher Yu Bing and video producers Olivia Zhang and Wayne Zhang contributed.