Unvaccinated seniors in China: “It could end really badly”

Status: 25/03/2022 10:35

No country in the world has vaccinated more against Covid-19 than China. But given the omicron wave, the fact that the elders did not have priority now could take revenge. 52 million seniors are not fully vaccinated.

By Benjamin Eyssel, ARD Studio Beijing

In Ditan Park, in the center of the Chinese capital Beijing, many older men and women meet in the afternoon, take care of their grandchildren, play sports, go for walks and chat on the park benches. Most here are Corona vaccinated.

So did a 69-year-old who received her third vaccination last year. “The government told me where to go and then I got the vaccine,” she says. “It’s good for me and for others too. If I get infected with the Corona, I won’t get seriously ill.”

While many here think so, not all of them do. Like this 84-year-old man: “I’m so old and I don’t want to exercise a lot. My kids want me to vaccinate, but I don’t want it.” There are many people in the vaccination center, visitors have to stand and wait a long time.

The national health agency warns him

Most countries vaccinated the elderly first, then the younger ones. China has done the opposite: first vaccinating young people who meet other people, travel and work, make the economy work. Then the older ones. No country in the world has vaccinated more against Covid-19 than China.

In the most populous country in the world, 1.4 billion people have been given more than three billion doses of the vaccine – almost exclusively the Chinese inactivated vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac. According to official data, the vaccination rate for the entire population is almost 90 percent.

But to date, many older people have not been vaccinated, Zeng Yixin of the National Health Administration said at a news conference on March 18. “We have 52 million people over the age of 60 who are not fully vaccinated,” he said. Most of them are over 80 years old. “Half of those over 80 have been fully vaccinated, nearly 20% have received a booster. But the vaccination rate is still very low.”

Is the Zero Covid policy still effective?

There are currently more cases of Covid in China than in two years. With a few thousand new infections every day, the numbers are significantly lower than in most other countries. The background is China’s de facto closed borders, rigid blockades for the smallest outbreaks, mass testing and travel bans.

But the question is whether the highly contagious variant of omicron can be used in the long term to maintain zero-Covid policy and what happens if the virus gets out of control. “This could be a big deal if Omikron gets out of hand,” says virologist Friedemann Weber of the University of Giessen. “With so many vulnerable and susceptible people, it could end really badly.”

More than 6000 deaths in one week

What happens when the virus loses control and affects many unvaccinated seniors can be seen in Hong Kong right now. China’s Special Administrative Region, like the mainland, has implemented a zero-Covid policy that has worked well for about two years. There were hardly any cases. This is one of the reasons why many people have felt safe and did not see the need to be vaccinated.

Then came the Omicron variant. In recent weeks, there have been tens of thousands of new infections every day, 6,500 people have died of Covid in the city of seven million, most of them in recent weeks. The vast majority were elderly and unvaccinated. Hong Kong currently has the highest Covid-19-related death rate in the world.

The government relies on domestic vaccines

The vaccination rate in mainland China is higher than in Hong Kong. But the sheer number of unvaccinated people, especially the elderly in the world’s most populous country, could become a problem. Furthermore, state and party leadership relied solely on domestic dead vaccines. According to studies, these do not protect as well as, for example, Moderna or BioNTech / Pfizer mRNA vaccines.

“It is taking a bit of revenge now that the internal vaccines have been given specifically,” says virologist Weber. They should have been combined more with mRNA vaccines. “But only dead vaccines, I think that’s a problem.”

Vaccination is not required

Furthermore, the health system in mainland China is not as developed as Hong Kong’s and could reach its limits even faster. There is no mandatory vaccination in China. State and party leadership are now increasingly demanding that older people be vaccinated.

Experts are calling for action now before it is too late. Wang Hesheng of the National Health Authority finds clear words: “The Hong Kong epidemic must be a lesson for us. If the vaccination rate among the elderly is low, the number of severe courses and deaths will be high.”

Many Unvaccinated Seniors – China’s Big Covid Problem?

Benjamin Eyssel, ARD Beijing, March 25, 2022 9:01 am

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