China races to vaccinate reluctant elderly groups

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

“When people hear about such incidents, they may not be ready to get vaccinated,” said Li, who was vaccinated before contracting COVID-19. A few days after 10 days of fighting the virus, Li is suffering from a sore throat and cough. He said it was like a “common cold” with a low-grade fever.

China has joined other countries in treating cases rather than trying to quell transmission of the virus by repealing or relaxing regulations on testing, isolation and movement when the country is not ready. This attempt to reverse the economic downturn. But the change has left hospitals inundated with feverish, wheezing patients.

The National Health Commission announced a campaign on November 29 to increase vaccination rates among the elderly in China, which health experts say is crucial to avoiding a healthcare crisis. It is also the biggest hurdle before the ruling Communist Party can lift the last of the strictest anti-virus restrictions in the world.

China has kept the number of infections at a two-year low with a “COVID-free” strategy to isolate cities and keep millions at home. Now, like it give up that approachit is facing the widespread outbreak that other countries have experienced.

The health commission recorded just six deaths from COVID-19 this month, bringing the country’s official total to 5,241. That’s despite numerous family reports of a loved one passing away.

China Only deaths due to pneumonia or respiratory failure are counted in its official COVID-19 count, a health official said last week. That unusually narrow definition does not include many of the deaths that other countries attribute to COVID-19.

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

Read more: What China’s Zero-COVID Policy Means for the Pandemic—in China and the Rest of the World

Li, who is exercising at the tree-lined grounds in the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, said he is considering a second booster shot due to the advertising 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 search for all people aged 65 and over and monitor their health. They are doing what the state media calls “ideological work,” lobbying people to convince elderly relatives to get vaccinated.

In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidun neighborhood is promising people over 60 up to 500 yuan ($70) for two doses and a booster.

The National Health Commission announced on December 23 that the number of people vaccinated daily has more than doubled to 3.5 million nationwide. But that’s still just a fraction of the tens of millions of injections given every day in early 2021.

Elderly people are annoyed by the potential side effects of the Chinese-made vaccine, which the government has not yet released the results of testing on people 60 years of age and older.

Li said a 55-year-old friend developed a fever and a blood clot after getting the vaccine. He said they couldn’t be sure it was the fault of the shot, but his friend didn’t want to take another shot.

“People also say The virus continues to mutate,” said Li. “How do we know if the vaccine we are using is helpful?”

Read more: CDC says Bivalent COVID-19 booster helps keep older people out of hospital

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health complications, despite warnings from experts that vaccinating them is even more urgent because of the risks. The effects of COVID-19 are more severe than the potential side effects of the vaccine in most people.

A 76-year-old man who walks around the Temple of Heaven daily with the help of a cane says he wants to get vaccinated but has diabetes and high blood pressure. The man, who gave only his last name, Fu, said he was wearing a mask and trying to avoid crowds.

Elderly people also feel less urgent because the low number of cases before the latest spike means fewer people face the risk of infection. However, the lack of previous infection left China with very few people to develop antibodies against the virus.

“Now, the families and relatives of the elderly should make it clear to them that the infection can cause severe illness and even death,” said Jiang Shibo of Fudan University medical school in Shanghai.

According to the National Health Commission, more than 90% of Chinese people have been vaccinated, but only about two-thirds of people over 80 are vaccinated. According to the 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 agency The Paper. “The elderly are at high risk.”

According to his carer, Du Ming’s son Li Zhuqing arranged to vaccinate the 100-year-old, who was pushing Du wearing a wheelchair through the park. Li agrees with that approach because none of the family members have been infected, which means they are more likely to bring the disease home to Du if they come into contact.

Health officials denied reporters’ requests to visit vaccination centers. Two people who briefly entered the center were ordered to leave when staff discovered who they were.

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

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