- China said it is accelerating the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine among the elderly in the country.
- But it still refuses to use Western mRNA vaccines to vaccinate the population faster.
- China’s reluctance to use Western vaccine technology is adding to mass protests against its COVID-19 restrictions.
As protests flare up in Chinese cities, the country’s government has promised to speed up the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to better protect its citizens from the virus and roll back the unpopular “zero-COVID” policy.
Health officials said Tuesday the country would accelerate the rollout of vaccines for the elderly, Reuters reported.
But hesitancy in using Western vaccine technology could hamper China’s response to the pandemic, prompting strict COVID-19 restrictions that have sparked rare demonstrations in major cities.
Public health experts told Insider that China’s strict “zero-COVID” guidelines, which require many people to present negative PCR tests if they want to go public, are not a long-term solution. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading disease expert, called it “draconian”.
Worse, the measures sparked large-scale protests across the country over the weekend, with protesters battling the country’s restrictions that have placed entire cities in lockdown if infection spreads.
The demonstrations are the largest protests the country has seen since the deadly Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
China’s low vaccination rate, particularly among the elderly, is a key driver behind the country’s tough COVID policies, NBC News reported.
According to NBC, many elderly people living in China have not been vaccinated for fear of side effects. They also saw no reason to get the vaccine in a country that reports virtually no cases.
Only 86.4% of people in China over the age of 60 got their shot, NBC News reported, compared to 93% of people in the US who are 65 and older. However, China’s biggest problem is people aged 80 and over. Only 59% of this age group have received a dose of the vaccine, according to China’s National Health Commission, reported by the BBC. About half of this age group received two doses of vaccine and 20% received two doses plus a booster dose.
Despite this, China still refuses to approve and distribute Western vaccines to vaccinate its citizens. Instead of Western mRNA-based vaccines, China has relied on its own brand of vaccines based on inactivated or killed viruses.
But according to Politico, Chinese vaccines have done little to contain the latest coronavirus variants, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Public health experts told Insider that China’s lockdown guidelines are only delaying new waves of COVID infections and China should use this extra time to ramp up vaccination as much as possible.
“It’s a really precarious situation for China,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health. “If they don’t really use this time to protect the population through vaccination, I just don’t see how this is supposed to end well.”
Germany this week suggested China should use Western vaccines to speed up the process and protect the country from the virus, Politico reported.
Steffen Hebestreit, chief spokesman for the federal government, told a government press conference in Berlin on Monday that China should start using western mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna as they have been the key to eliminating most countries the grips of the pandemic, Politico reported.
“Perhaps, after three years of the pandemic, one has to say that Europe and Germany have had very good experiences with the administration of mRNA vaccinations,” said Hebestreit, according to Politico.
He added that Chancellor Olaf Scholz “made that clear” during his recent visit to China, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Politico.