China's refusal to use Western COVID-19 vaccines is making its protest problems even worse

Protesters march along a street during a rally for the victims of a deadly fire as well as a protest against China's harsh Covid-19 restrictions in Beijing on November 28, 2022
There have been protests in every major city — including Beijing, the Chinese capital.NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images
  • China said it's accelerating its COVID-19 vaccine rollout among elderly people in the country.

  • But it still refuses to use Western mRNA vaccines to innoculate the population more quickly.

  • China's hesitancy to use Western vaccine technology is contributing to the mass protests against its COVID-19 restrictions.

As protests flare up in Chinese cities, the country's government has promised to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to better protect its citizens from the virus and to pull back on unpopular "zero COVID" policies.

Health officials said on Tuesday that the country would be ramping up vaccine rollout for elderly people, Reuters reported.

But hesitancy to use Western vaccine technology may be hampering China's response to the pandemic, leading to harsh COVID-19 restrictions that have sparked rare demonstrations in major cities.

Public health experts told Insider that China's strict "zero-COVID" policies which require many people to show negative PCR tests when they want to go out in public aren't a long-term solution. Anthony Fauci, the US' top disease expert, called them "draconian."

Worse, the measures sparked major protests in the country over the weekend with demonstrators fighting back against the country's restrictions that have put entire cities on lockdown when an infection spreads.

The demonstrations are the biggest protests the country has seen since the deadly Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The low vaccination rate in China, namely among old people, is a major driving force behind the strict COVID policies, NBC News reported.

According to NBC, many older people living in China have not gotten vaccinated out of fear of side effects. They also saw no reason to get the vaccine in a country that reports virtually no cases.

Only 86.4% of people in China over the age of 60 have gotten their shot, NBC News reported, compared with the US's 93% of people 65 and older. China's biggest problem is people aged 80 and older, however. Only 59% of that age group has received one dose of the vaccine, according to data from the Chinese National Health Commission reported by BBC. Roughly half of that age group received two vaccine doses and 20% have gotten two shots plus a booster.

Despite that, China is still refusing to approve and distribute Western vaccines to innoculate its citizens. In lieu of the Western vaccines, which are based on mRNA, China has been relying on its own brand of jabs, which rely on inactivated, or killed, virus.

But according to Politico, the Chinese vaccines have done little to curb the latest coronavirus variants, including the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Public health experts told Insider that China's lockdown policies only delay new waves of COVID infection, and China should use that extra time to increase vaccination as much as possible.

"It's a really vulnerable situation for China to be in," Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health said. "Unless they really use this time to protect the population through vaccination, I just don't understand how this is going to end well."

Germany this week suggested China should use Western vaccines to speed up the process and protect the country from the virus, Politico reported.

Steffen Hebestreit, chief spokesperson for the German government, said at a government press conference in Berlin Monday that China should start using Western mRNA vaccines created by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna because they have been the key to getting most countries out of the holds of the pandemic, Politico reported.

"Perhaps after three years of the pandemic, it must be said that Europe and Germany have had very good experience with administering mRNA vaccinations," Hebestreit said, according to Politico.

He added that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz "made this clear" during his recent visit to China where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Politico.

Read the original article on Business Insider