In a scandal in 2018, hundreds of thousands of children may have received ineffective vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. And in 2013, 17 infants died after receiving a hepatitis B vaccine made in China. Although this vaccine has been widely used since, authorities moved quickly to silence critics.
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Collective immunity is a goal that most countries have abandoned – especially with the emergence of new variants such as Omicron and Delta – but which China has made as a prerequisite for reopening its borders.
“Their hope is that by increasing the vaccination rate, it will give them the confidence to open up in the future,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University.
Getting there will be difficult, in part because the country’s vaccines appear to be less effective than their Western competitors. Relying only on its current vaccines, “China is unlikely to strengthen this herd immunity,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped officials from working tirelessly to get vaccines into the arms of the country’s smallest citizens. Kindergarten teachers across the country have sent personal appeals urging parents to “hurry up” and get their students immunized. “Please answer the national call to guide your child to take the initiative and actively get immunized,” an education office wrote in a public letter to parents.
In the eastern city of Hangzhou, the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and Beijing, kindergartens have sent out notices in private focus groups with parents suggesting vaccination is required, according to interviews and messages reviewed by The New York Times. Parents are often asked to respond publicly if their children have received an injection. If parents refuse, they are asked to provide in writing the reason why their child was not vaccinated.