How China Is Trying to Convince 1 Billion People to Get Vaccinated for COVID

Some people feel they are being coerced into getting the shots.
March 29, 2021, 9:35am
China vaccines covid
China’s vaccination rate falls far behind many developed countries. Photo: Noel CELIS / AFP

China has launched an aggressive vaccination campaign as it tries to catch up with other major economies in building the country’s immunity against COVID-19.

China’s vaccination rate falls far behind many developed countries. By March 28, more than 106 million shots of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in China, or 8 shots per 100 residents. The rate is 49 in the United Kingdom and 42 in the United States.

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To accelerate inoculations, Chinese authorities have mobilized local bureaucrats, companies, and universities in the past week to enforce what officials call a “political task”—to give the shots to everyone aged between 18 to 59, or about 900 million people, under the slogan “vaccinate all who can be vaccinated.”

In some cases, people say they feel being coerced into taking the vaccines. Some residents told VICE World News they had no choice to opt out, and many others have posted similar complaints on the microblogging site Weibo. 

China’s early success in containing its COVID-19 outbreaks have led to low incentive to get vaccinated.

A study based on surveys conducted from October to November estimated that about 60 percent of China’s adult population was willing to get COVID vaccines, although more than half of the respondents said they wanted to observe the first stage of vaccination before deciding. 

Past scandals involving Chinese vaccine makers may have contributed to hesitancy. The Chinese government has so far approved five COVID-19 vaccines, all made in China. None of the companies have published details of their late-stage clinical trials.

Facing reluctance, local governments are using the following ways to make people take the vaccines.

1. Put banners and loudspeakers in neighborhoods

Local governments are encouraging people to get vaccinated through social media posts, texts, street banners, and loudspeakers. 

At Xiangyang town in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, calls for people to get the shots are broadcast non-stop through village loudspeakers 12 hours a day, according to an official report. 

2. Hand out freebies

Some local officials are rewarding people with shopping mall vouchers and other benefits for getting vaccinated.

At the Beixiaguan community in Beijing, residents who got the vaccines would receive a special card, which could be redeemed into a pack of vegetables at a local grocery store.

3. Visit people’s homes 

Community officers, front-line bureaucrats in China’s vast governance network, have been deployed to convince those reluctant to get vaccinated. 

In Datai, a community in Beijing, officers made phone calls or paid visits to everyone who was not willing to get vaccinated. “[They] solved problems one by one, talked to people earnestly and sincerely to persuade them,” an official report said. The strategy had “effectively changed the uncompromising attitude” of some residents, it said. 

The community managed to get all of its 899 eligible residents vaccinated this month. 

4. Name and shame 

A 26-year-old primary school teacher in the eastern province of Jiangsu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said every day the local education bureau publishes a name list of those who have not been vaccinated, as a way to push the workers. 

A 22-year-old university student in the northern city of Tianjin told VICE World News that students at her school were required to get vaccinated, unless they could provide medical proof of being allergic. 

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“I’m worried I’ll have allergic reactions and a fever,” she said, adding that she didn’t know which type of vaccine she was about to receive. “No way to get out of this.”

5. Threaten with a “talk” 

Some local authorities have pledged to summon people for “talks” if they refuse to get vaccinated. 

In Qionghai, a city in the southern island province of Hainan, for example, all medical workers were told to get the shots unless they were pregnant, breastfeeding, allergic, or planning to get pregnant soon. 

Those who failed to comply would be asked to have a conversation with the Communist Party’s discipline inspectors. 

6. Make officials and employers responsible

In many places, local officials and company management are responsible for raising the vaccination rates among residents or employees. 

At Wangping town in Beijing, vaccination rates have been tied to the performance of local bureaucrats. And in Haikou, Hainan province, companies that fail to achieve 85 percent vaccination rates will receive a warning, the government said. 

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People wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccination in Beijing on March 8. Photo: GREG BAKER / AFP

The Chinese leadership often uses such mass campaigns to achieve ambitious policy targets. Thanks to the state vaccination push and rising output from vaccine production, China’s vaccination campaign has drastically accelerated in the past weeks. 

VICE World News calculations based on official data showed that an average of 4.7 million doses were given between March 24 and March 28, up from about 1.7 million doses per day between March 15 and March 20. 

The government’s goal is to have 40 percent of the population vaccinated by July, meaning the daily vaccination number needs to reach 8 million, according to state-run tabloid Global Times

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.