China races to vaccinate elderly, but many are reluctant

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities are paying people over the age of 60 to go door-to-door to get vaccinated against Covid-19. But even as cases surgeLi Liansheng, 64, said his friends are alarmed by stories of fever, blood clots and other side effects.

“When people hear about such incidents, they may not be willing to take vaccines,” said Li, who was vaccinated before catching COVID-19. A few days into his 10-day battle with the virus, Li is suffering from a sore throat and cough. He said it was like a “common cold” with a slight fever.

China has joined other countries in treating cases rather than trying to contain the spread of the virus by waiving or relaxing rules on testing, quarantine and movement as it tries to reverse the economic slowdown. But this shift hospitals are filled with patients with fever and shortness of breath.

The National Health Commission on November 29 announced a campaign to raise vaccination rates among elderly Chinese, which health experts say is critical to averting the health care crisis. It is also the biggest hurdle before the ruling Communist Party can roll back the last of the world’s strictest antivirus restrictions.

China has kept the number of cases low for two years using a “zero-Covid” strategy that isolates cities and confines millions of people to their homes. Now, it’s backing away from that approachIt faces a widespread outbreak that other countries have already gone through.

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The Health Commission recorded just six COVID-19 deaths this month, taking the country’s official tally to 5,241. This is despite multiple reports being filed by relatives’ families.

China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure In its official COVID-19 toll, a health official said last week. The unusually narrow definition excludes many deaths that other countries attribute to COVID-19.

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

Exercising on the leafy grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, Li said he was considering getting a second booster because of the publicity: “We should take the vaccine as long as we know it won’t cause major side effects.” .”

Neighborhood committees, the lowest level of government, are mandated to locate and monitor the health of all 65-year-olds and older. They do what state media call “ideological work,” lobbying residents to get elderly relatives vaccinated.

In the Chinese capital, Beijing, the Liulidan neighborhood offers people between the ages of 60 and 500 yuan ($70) to get a two-dose vaccination course and a booster.

The National Health Commission said on December 23 that the number of people being vaccinated per day has doubled to 3.5 million nationwide. But that’s a tiny fraction of the millions of shots taken every day in early 2021.

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Older adults are put off by 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 experienced fever and blood clots after being vaccinated. He said they couldn’t be sure the shooting was to blame, but his friend was reluctant to take another one.

“It is also said that the virus continues to mutate” Li said. “How do we know if the vaccines we’re taking are effective?”

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health problems, and despite experts warning that vaccination is even more urgent, the risk of COVID-19 is more serious than vaccine side effects for almost everyone.

A 76-year-old man, who walks daily around the Temple of Heaven with the help of a cane, said he had diabetes and high blood pressure but wanted to be vaccinated. The man, who would only give his surname Fu, said he was wearing a mask and trying to avoid crowds.

Older people also felt little urgency because low case numbers before the latest surge meant they faced less risk of infection. However, the lack of early infections has left China with few people who have developed antibodies against the virus.

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“Right now, families and relatives of the elderly must make it clear to them that an infection can cause serious illness and death,” said Jiang Shibo of Fudan University Medical School in Shanghai.

According to the National Health Commission, more than 90% of people in China are vaccinated, but only about two-thirds of those over 80. According to the 2020 census, China has 191 million people aged 65 and over – a group that would be the eighth most populous country, ahead of Bangladesh.

“Coverage rates for the over-80s still need to be improved,” Shanghai news outlet The Paper said. “The elderly are at higher risk.”

According to his caretaker, Li Suqing, who was pushing the masked Du through a park in a wheelchair, Du Ming’s son arranged to vaccinate the 100-year-old. Li agreed with that approach because no family members were infected, which meant they were more likely to bring the disease to Du if they were exposed.

Health officials declined journalists’ requests to visit the vaccination centers. When the staff found out who the two people who had briefly entered the centers were ordered to leave.

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

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