(Beijing) The Chinese, who feel no urgency because the epidemic is under control at home, production capacities are still modest, and “vaccine diplomacy” that shifts doses abroad: vaccination begins timidly in China.
At this rate, the Asian giant, yet at the forefront of vaccine development, could see developed countries achieve mass immunity and reopen their borders – which is almost an insult.
According to a survey by the Ipsos Institute, the Chinese are among the most enthusiastic vaccinators (85%), far ahead of Americans (71%) or the French (57%). But wait-and-see prevails for the time being.
“I am waiting to see if there are any side effects,” Shirley Shi, director of human resources in Beijing, told AFP.
After that the epidemic became under control in China and I am not planning to travel abroad. So I don’t need a vaccine right away, ”she explains.
With only two people dead since May and life nearly returning to normal, the Chinese strategy is “very effective and gives a sense of safety to the population,” notes Matteo Deuchatel, director of the Asia Program at the Montaigne Research Institute in Paris.
A sense of urgency found in the West […] Not found in China. ”
China has already administered more than 52 million doses, placing it second in the world after Americans.
But the country lags far behind in the percentage of doses taken per 100 people: fewer than four, compared to 25 in the US and 33 in the UK.
A situation that may come as a surprise in a country known for its ability to mobilize and have already imposed strict restrictions, checks and quarantines since last year.
Chinese infectious disease specialist Zhang Wenhong admitted Monday that the vaccination rate is now a “great concern.”
China’s achievement of herd immunity could delay the moment when a large portion of the population is immune to the coronavirus – either by contamination or by vaccination.
Article published in November in the medical journal The scalpel The required percentage was estimated at 60-72%. Zhao Fu, director of the China Public Health Protection Agency, set the rate between 70-80% on Friday.
Faced with surrounding apathy, China is trying to respond: It hopes to vaccinate 40% of its 1.4 billion people by the end of June, according to respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan, a figure in the fight against COVID-19.
“Emergency” vaccinations were already launched last summer for high-risk groups (caregivers, employees of government institutions or students traveling abroad).
Since December, cities, neighborhood committees and businesses have gradually offered children ages 18 to 59 to be vaccinated.
“I work in a dental clinic, where there is a higher risk of infection. We are wearing masks, but it is always better to have antibodies,” Zhang Yutong, a young woman who graduated from the Beijing vaccination center, told AFP.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that China also plans to set up “vaccination sites” in neighboring countries to vaccinate overseas Chinese who wish to do so.
Beijing has so far approved four vaccines, all of them Chinese.
As a precaution, people 60 years of age or older are nearly excluded from vaccination, because the manufacturers have not yet published accurate data from clinical tests on older adults.
However, production capacity, modestly, is increasing and the authorities hope to reach two billion annual doses by the end of 2021.
At present, in terms of capacity, this is not sufficient to meet China’s immunization needs […] And vaccine diplomacy, “confirms Yanzhong Huang, a health issues specialist at the American Research Center, the Council on Foreign Relations.
Authorities say millions of Chinese vaccines are going abroad, in the form of sales or donations, to “help the international community overcome the epidemic.”
According to state media, the orders and donations currently account for around 560 million doses. China says it provides free vaccines to 69 countries.
A profitable sacrifice for Beijing?
Yanzhong Huang warns that “if other countries achieve, through vaccination, group immunity, reopen their borders and return to normal life” before the end of the Chinese vaccination campaign, “this may give a bad image to China.”
“It would undermine the rhetoric about the effectiveness of the disease control model.”
To encourage the Chinese to get vaccinated, the Chinese authorities are considering issuing a “vaccination passport” that allows for simplified travel to places or countries that have already achieved group immunity.
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