In China’s southern Guangdong Province, a teacher was told by her school that she must find four individuals aged 60 or older who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 and get them to take vaccines to help boost the district’s inoculation rate among older residents.
Otherwise, her performance review would be affected.
“I have classes to teach... I can’t just leave my students and go looking for a needle in a haystack,” said the teacher, who goes by the name Sherry.
As some other individuals in her district had been given similar tasks by their employers, Sherry said she had to offer cash incentives from her own pocket to beat the competition to win over older residents.
Sherry said she had spent nearly 1,000 yuan (US$157) in total on two people she had convinced to get vaccinated.
In the past month, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has dragged the world’s most populous nation into its biggest COVID-19 outbreak since it contained the virus’ initial outbreak in Wuhan, even though the numbers are modest by international standards.
There were more than 38,000 local symptomatic cases last month, more than four times the number of infections in the whole of last year. That number did not include those without symptoms, which China classifies separately.
Nevertheless, China is maintaining a policy of curbing transmissions as soon as they emerge and considers its older residents as a weak link, given their low vaccination rates.
Out of the 264 million people aged 60 or older, about 20 percent had not completed their primary vaccination as of Friday last week.
By comparison, the complete vaccination rate for the 1.41 billion population is about 88 percent.
Officials say some older residents worry about potential post-vaccination reactions or deem the shots unnecessary.
At a nursing home in Beijing, only three of its 43 elderly residents had been vaccinated, a representative of the institute surnamed Qin said.
“None of the family members of any old individuals have voluntarily asked for vaccination,” Qin said, adding that staffers persuaded family members of only half of the residents to agree to vaccinations, despite the nationwide case surge.
Many in the home are under long-term treatment for existing conditions, and their family members worry about how COVID-19 shots would affect routine medication, Qin said.
“There will be some families who think that [the residents] are so old, they don’t go out anyway and are already bedridden, so there’s no need for vaccination,” Qin said
China is worried about what happened in Hong Kong, where most deaths in its ongoing COVID-19 outbreak were older residents.
Beijing has said that the flare-up in the former British colony is a lesson mainland China should learn from.
Many grassroots leaders have dispatched people to knock on doors to pitch the idea of vaccination to older residents, keep a record of unvaccinated people and their reasons for being so, hold conversations with them to allay concerns about vaccines, and rigorously update how many doses they are short of targets.
That method, used in China’s mass COVID-19 vaccination drive last year, could see renewed momentum as some deadlines near.
The northwestern province of Qinghai said it aims to administer more than 560,000 individuals aged 60 or older a first dose by the end of this month.
Officials would be held accountable for any feet-dragging, it said last month.
Taoshan, a district in Qitaihe city in Heilongjiang Province, said its fight to vaccinate 83.2 percent of its residents older than 60 by April 1 “must be won,” and it would name and shame people and institutes that have done a poor job.
Many areas have doled out incentives for vaccinations such as shopping coupons, free groceries and even cash, some of which target older residents.
A neighborhood in Beijing’s Chaoyang District last month sent out mobile phone messages to residents saying that those aged 60 or older would be given 500 yuan after receiving their first shot.
The Guangdong teacher said a red-hot “local market” had emerged in finding yet-to-be-vaccinated older resident.
Some of her colleagues had paid people more than 1,000 yuan each to get them take the shot, she said.
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