After a slow start, China’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign is well underway as authorities pursue an ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 40 percent of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people by the end of this month.
China has given more than 945 million vaccine doses, more than a third of the world’s total, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker. With around 17 million injections a day this month, China is well on the way to surpassing a billion injections in the coming days.
The early delay in the national campaign came in part because China first gave vaccine exports priority, and because lockdowns and mass testing had largely tamed the virus, many Chinese felt vaccination was less urgent. China had only administered around 65 million doses in mid-March. In April there were only 4.8 million cans a day.
Many Chinese people were also reluctant to get the syringes, in part because of previous scandals over Chinese-made vaccines. Only domestically made vaccines are offered in the country.
To get its vaccination campaign going, China pulled out its pandemic success playbook: a top-down approach that relies on a mix of high-tech tools and old-fashioned grassroots mobilization – with some incentives.
Compared to the United States, where local officials have tried to encourage vaccinations by offering lures like multi-million dollar lottery winnings and free weed, the incentives in China have been more modest. In Shanghai, a man was given a bottle of water. Officials in Anhui Province are handing out free eggs. A woman in Beijing received about $ 7 in cash.
But for some, a bigger driver seems to be widespread concern over an outbreak of the delta variant of the coronavirus, a more transmissible version first identified in India in the southern city of Guangzhou and now seems to be subsiding. On Wednesday, Guangzhou authorities did not report any new local cases for the first time since the outbreak began in May.
Yuhui Li, a resident of nearby Shenzhen City, said she initially refused to get vaccinated because she was concerned about possible side effects. She changed her mind after the outbreak in Guangzhou, she said, but the demand is so great, she added, that officials in her neighborhood are no longer offering free eggs or trips to vaccination sites.
“I want to get the vaccine, but it’s really hard to make an appointment now,” said Ms. Li, 27, an assistant at a film production company.
In Guangdong Province, which includes Guangzhou, only 36 percent of the population was fully vaccinated by early June.
China still has a long way to go before 70 percent of the population, around 980 million people, is fully vaccinated, which authorities said should be achieved by the end of the year. To meet the target, China has ramped up production of the two main vaccines manufactured by Sinovac and Sinopharm companies. Both vaccines appear to reduce the risk of serious Covid disease, albeit to a lesser extent than Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Some cities are further than others. In the capital Beijing, more than 80 percent of residents aged 18 and over were fully vaccinated on Wednesday. Given the uneven introduction and the fact that most people haven’t received two doses, Chinese health experts have warned against easing border controls in the country, which remain some of the strictest in the world.