Concrete signs of an effort to exit from zero-COVID are emerging, with a notice today of a push to vaccinate the elderly. The low level of vaccine coverage of the most vulnerable is, along with a lack of healthcare capacity, the major constraint on China’s ability to re-open without a high death toll. As of this week, a quarter of over-80s have not had a single vaccine dose, while 60% have not yet had the booster of a Chinese-made vaccine needed to provide protection comparable to two doses of an mRNA vaccine. The National Health Commission today said that the gap from second to booster dose could be shortened to three months, which could speed up the roll-out. And it called for a “whole-society” push to encourage the elderly to get vaccinated, including through public information efforts. This is an important shift. If it goes well, China could be in a position to relax COVID controls significantly next year. But it remains to be seen whether persuasion alone will increase vaccine take-up. After all, the risk of catching COVID in China is still extremely low. During the whole pandemic to date, 1.5 million infections have been recorded, equivalent to just one for every thousand people in China.
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