China’s Lack of Protection for Elderly Population Poses Risks as Restrictions Ease
As China begins to ease pandemic-related restrictions, it is becoming increasingly clear that the country has not done enough to protect its elderly population from the effects of COVID-19. Unlike other countries, which prioritized vaccinating those most likely to die from the disease, China started with healthy working-age groups. When attention finally shifted to the elderly, officials were cautious about potential side-effects and the process has been slow. This lack of urgency has resulted in a situation where only 40% of people over 80 have had three vaccine doses, compared to 80% in England.
Recently, the National Health Commission issued a directive calling on officials to “speed up” vaccination work among the elderly and shorten the gap between the second and third jabs from six months to three. The “whole of society” is being urged to help ensure that the elderly get their shots. However, this will be a difficult task. When the vaccination drive was launched earlier this year, many doctors advised older people against getting the vaccine if they had common health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. This was due to a lack of data on the potential side-effects of Chinese-made vaccines on the elderly, as they were underrepresented in trials. While these fears have dissipated among experts, they still persist among the older population.
Most older people in China have not had much experience with vaccines since childhood and are required to pay for seasonal flu jabs, which many do not bother with. This, combined with a preference for traditional remedies using natural ingredients, has contributed to a situation where China’s vaccination rates for the elderly are low. This lack of protection is a worrying prospect as the country begins to ease pandemic-related restrictions, with the risk of a surge in infections.