With vaccination numbers slackening, the Chinese government has begun a new push to encourage people to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They have set a goal of 40% of the country’s 1.4 billion people being vaccinated by June.
According to the South China Morning Post, roughly 5.5 million people were vaccinated against COVID-19 on Thursday, a significant increase from the 1.6 million average on Saturday. However, in order to reach the goal of 560 million people vaccinated by June 1, that number will have to double to 10 million per day.
Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan set the goal during a Monday teleconference on vaccination held by the State Council inter-agency task force for COVID-19 response, Xinhua News reported.
China has five COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of use: one from CanSino Biologics Inc; one from Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an affiliate of the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm); another from Sinopharm called BBIBP-CorV; and one from Sinovac. A fifth vaccine, developed jointly by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was approved for emergency production last week. It requires three doses but can be stored at typical refrigerator temperatures, unlike some of the earlier vaccines that require deep freezing to remain usable.
So far, an estimated 91.3 million doses have been administered, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). However, China has exported almost as many vaccine doses as it has kept for its own use, in stark contrast to the United States and United Kingdom, which have kept essentially all of the vaccines their respective countries have produced so far, although the Biden administration has pledged $4 billion toward the World Health Organization’s COVAX program.
Price of Success
Ironically, China’s incredible success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak has left many people feeling like there is no great rush to get protected from the virus.
“Many people mistakenly think there is no practical meaning to be vaccinated because the epidemic situation is under effective control and the virus is far away from us,” NHC statistics and informatics chief He Qinghua said at a news conference last week, according to the Associated Press.
China has suffered barely 90,000 cases of COVID-19 and just 4,636 deaths, virtually all of which occurred during the initial outbreak in late 2019 and early 2020, which preceded the virus’ global sweep. By comparison, the United States has seen more than 30 million cases of the virus and suffered an appalling 547,000 deaths, according to Friday data collected by The New York Times. China detected its first COVID-19 case in a month last Thursday.
“Now that we have vaccines, we must let more people get immunity and protection through inoculation,” He said. “I once again suggest that people get vaccinated as soon as possible so as to acquire immunity.”
Shanghai vaccine expert Tao Lina told SCMP that Sun’s goal was entirely achievable - in fact, the country has done it before.
“I believe the target of reaching 10 million a day is not hard to reach if supplies keep up – there will be days higher than the 10 million. We achieved that years ago,” Sun said, referring to a 2010 initiative in which 100 million children were vaccinated against measles in just 10 days.
“We just need to be patient and wait for the daily administered doses to trend upwards,” she added.
SCMP noted that public servants, university students, teachers and doctors are all being urged to get vaccinated. The vaccines are administered voluntarily and under informed consent, but some are reportedly saying they faced public humiliation if they don’t get their shots.
The Global Times noted that some communities are also staging door-to-door campaigns to raise awareness about getting the vaccine, and are holding public “sharing sessions” where people discuss getting the vaccine in an effort to boost public willingness to get them.