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China was a vaccine skeptic even before the pandemic. It has blunted the nation’s Covid struggle

Amid a renewed scrutiny of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy, which has sparked rare united protests across the country against President Xi Jinping, experts have also acknowledged flaws in their vaccination drive.

Unlike other countries, which have accepted that they will have to live with the disease to some degree, China has a policy known as “dynamic zero,” meaning that wherever Covid-19 flares up, dynamic action is taken to to eradicate it. .

People gather for a vigil and hold white sheets of paper in protest against COVID-19 restrictions, during a memorial to the victims of a fire in Urumqi in Beijing, China (Photo: Reuters)

The Chinese government claims that this policy saves lives because uncontrolled outbreaks put many vulnerable people, such as the elderly, at risk. Due to strict lockdowns, the death toll in China has remained low since the outbreak began – the official figure is now just over 5,200.

However, after a fire claimed 10 lives (which people blamed on the strict lockdowns put in place under the policy), all of China came together and demanded an end to the policy, even seeing calls against the Communist Party of China and Xi Jinping.

Low vaccination a problem

Despite being responsible for the majority of Covid-19 infections and Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths in China, older adults remain largely unvaccinated; as of May 2022, only 38% of adults aged 60 or over in Shanghai had received three vaccine doses, with even lower rates among those aged 80 or over, according to a BBC report.

The goal of achieving a Covid-free China has resulted in a focus that may overlook a critical issue, namely low vaccination rates among the elderly, the Lancet says in a report.

There is growing dissatisfaction with China’s strict Covid policies as most cities remain locked down over fears of infections. (Photo by Noël CELIS / AFP)

Despite being responsible for the majority of Covid-19 infections and Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths in China, older adults remain largely unvaccinated; as of May 2022, only 38% of adults age 60 or older in Shanghai had received three vaccine doses, with even lower rates among those age 80 or older, the report states.

The early reluctance to get vaccinated was due to initial uncertainty about safety results in older people, which stemmed in part from a lack of clinical trials to assess the results of domestic vaccines in this age group.

In some cases, doctors advising elderly patients with chronic conditions to vaccinate shared this reluctance.

Vaccine skepticism predates the Covid pandemic

However, widespread vaccine skepticism predates the Covid-19 pandemic, which was fueled by scandal; in July 2018, Chinese vaccine maker Changsheng Biotechnology was found to have falsified inspection data for a rabies vaccine and manufactured ineffective diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccines for children and infants, the report said.

Due to the lack of confidence in domestic vaccine development, many elderly people, already concerned about safety and often preferring traditional medicine, have refused vaccination against Covid-19.

Epidemic prevention workers in protective suits guard the entrance to an office building as the COVID-19 outbreak continues in Beijing, China (Image: Reuters)

The older adults who do seek vaccination have difficulty accessing vaccination centers due to their limited mobility, especially those who live in rural areas. While low vaccination rates may be misinterpreted as due to neglect or even ageism, it may instead reflect the reverence for the elderly ingrained in Chinese culture, according to which the elderly are granted autonomy to make health decisions.

Is the lack of an MnRA vaccine bad?

While more than 90 percent of the population in China has already received two doses of the vaccine, whether their immunity has been compromised remains an important question. In recent months, authorities seem to have stepped up their efforts to encourage people to get a third shot of the vaccine.

As of Nov. 11, only 65% ​​of the population over the age of 80 had received two injections, while 40% had received three, says a report by the South China Morning Post.

Low vaccination coverage in the elderly is a concern (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

According to experts, the absence of an mRNA vaccine in China should not be a primary concern; however, the country’s vaccination rate should be, the report said. Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told SCMP that the absence of an mRNA vaccine was irrelevant because inactivated vaccines are also very good at preventing serious disease.

Although it lagged far behind BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine in preventing infections, data from Hong Kong showed that Sinovac’s inactivated vaccine was still effective in preventing serious illness. This is despite falling far short of BioNTech’s vaccine. However, because the rate of vaccine resistance was so high across the board, preventing infections was no longer the primary goal of vaccine development.

“I believe the costs of maintaining zero-Covid are getting higher and higher every month, while the benefits of zero-Covid are getting smaller and smaller because of higher vaccine coverage and milder sub-variants of Covid now circulating,” he said. Bonnet.

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