After a slow start, China’s Covid-19 vaccination drive is in full swing as the authorities chase the ambitious target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people by the end of this month.
China has administered more than 945 million vaccine doses, more than a third of the global total, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker. With about 17 million shots injected every day this month, China is on pace to surpass a billion shots in the coming days.
To get its vaccine drive going, China pulled out its playbook for pandemic success: a top-down approach that relies on a mix of high-tech tools and old-fashioned, grass-roots mobilization — with some inducements thrown in.
Compared with the United States, where local officials have sought to boost inoculations by offering lures such as million-dollar lottery prizes and free weed, the incentives in China have been humbler. In Shanghai, one man received a bottle of water. In Anhui Province, officials have been handing out free eggs. A woman in Beijing got the equivalent of about $7 in cash.
Uptake has surged. In mid-March, China had administered only about 65 million doses. In April, it was giving only 4.8 million doses per day. Many Chinese had been hesitant to get the shots, in part because of past scandals involving Chinese-made vaccines and also because the virus has been largely tamed in China. Only domestically produced vaccines are being offered in the country.
Demand has risen following a recent outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in the southern city of Guangzhou. In Guangdong Province, which encompasses Guangzhou, only 36 percent of the population had been fully inoculated by early June.
Yuhui Li, a resident of the nearby city of Shenzhen, said she had initially been reluctant to get vaccinated because she was worried about potential side effects. She changed her mind after the outbreak in Guangzhou, she said, but has struggled to book an appointment. Demand was so high, she added, that officials in her neighborhood were no longer offering free eggs or rides to vaccination sites.
“I want to get vaccinated, but it’s really hard to make an appointment now,” said Ms. Li, 27, an assistant at a film production company.
On Wednesday, the Guangzhou authorities reported no new local cases for the first time since the outbreak began in May.
China has a long way to go before fully vaccinating 70 percent of the population, about 980 million people, which the authorities say they hope to achieve by the end of the year. To meet the target, China has cranked up production of the two main vaccines in use, those produced by the companies Sinovac and Sinopharm. Both vaccines appear to reduce the risk of severe Covid, although their efficacy rates in clinical trials — 78 percent for Sinopharm, and 50 percent to 78 percent for Sinovac, depending on which country the trial was done in — are lower than those of the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
Some cities are further along than others. In Beijing, the capital, more than 80 percent of residents 18 and older were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. Given the uneven rollout, and the fact that most people have not received two doses, Chinese health experts have warned against loosening the country’s border controls, which remain among the strictest in the world.