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China takes COVID vaccination drive to villages as cases surge


SHANGHAI: Recuperating after receiving her fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot, Xu Yafa, a 64-year-old retiree living in a small village on the outskirts of Shanghai, was very clear about the reasons why she needed a booster jab. "Because I am afraid!" she told Reuters.

In Zhongmin on Wednesday, Xu was among a small number of elderly residents braving the cold to take part in a government campaign aimed at ensuring that COVID vaccines reach the people who need them most. China's health authority pledged late last month to make a concerted effort to ramp up vaccinations among the over-60s, promising to deploy specialist vehicles and set up temporary clinics in villages and communities in order to boost coverage rates, which have lagged among the elderly.

With China's zero-COVID regime now dismantled, vaccinating the vulnerable has become even more critical, with the country facing a surge in infections that has already put its health infrastructure under massive strain. Wang Yaqian, a doctor involved in the Zhongmin vaccination programme, stressed the importance of going directly into the village itself.

"We started to vaccinate last year - the first jab, the second jab, the third jab were all done in the village because there are a lot of old people and getting about isn't very easy and our service centre is quite far away," she said. "It isn't easy for these villagers to get up and down the stairs. There is also demand here, so we just chose to come to the village, which is more convenient." With many of the elderly worried that vaccination could aggravate their underlying health problems, China's health authority also promised to launch targeted public information campaigns aimed at spreading the message that vaccines were not only a vital way of protecting oneself against COVID, but were also safe. Zhao Hui, a local Communist Party official, said they had been persuading residents of the importance of vaccination face to face.

"There are some elderly people who do indeed have a little apprehension so we have invited a family doctor to go to their doors and mobilise them, and according to their illnesses or the medicines they are taking, let them know whether they can be vaccinated," she said. "This is all done at their door." Zhao said the village had already seen a small number of positive cases but there were concerns that people coming home for Chinese New Year in January could put the elderly residents at greater risk of infection. "So everyone is hoping that they can get boosters and ensure their own health," she said.

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