An official in China recently announced plans to have 1.1 billion citizens vaccinated by the end of October, claiming the target was approved by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to state-run media.
There will be “vaccination coverage for one billion people by the end of August and 1.1 billion by the end of October,” said Qin Weiguo, mayor of Huaibei municipal government of China’s central Anhui Province. Qin made the statement after a provincial video conference with provincial leadership on Aug. 19, according to a report by Huaibei Daily the following day. The report has since been deleted from the internet.
Beijing’s epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said last week that China is expected to reach 80 percent vaccination coverage by the end of the year, achieving “herd immunity,” echoing the data released by Qin.
Yet China experts said such goal-setting would build up “political pressure” and change the nature of the country’s supposed voluntary vaccination efforts.
Lin Xiaoxu, a former virology researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said that pressure had come on local authorities from a central government order to “zero out” the unvaccinated population.
“For local governments, epidemic prevention is a political task,” Lin said as a guest speaker at NTD’s Chinese language program “Voices of Influence” on Wednesday.
China’s top health authority, the National Health Commission (NHC), reaffirmed in July that vaccination was voluntary across the country, but local authorities have imposed strict vaccine mandates. Unvaccinated workers in some regions have been told their salaries would be suspended or they’ll be denied work unless they were inoculated.
“In this [centralized] administrative system, China’s NHC does not have much [of a] right to say,” Lin said.
In the Huaibei Daily report, Qin said the recent campaign is to “win the ‘People’s War’ on vaccination.”
“People’s War” refers to what was originally a military strategy developed by past Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong to maintain the support of the people and fight the enemy. It now functions as political rhetoric, including in the domain of public health.
Lin said: “Normal human considerations are negligible in a so-called case of a war… The Chinese Communist Party is not really trying to save lives.”
China commentator Qin Peng said during the program, “During this [wartime], a death toll is just a number, or the price you have to pay.”
Posts by Chinese netizens on social media have recounted stories of people dying after taking vaccines, as well as cases of leukemia, heart failure, brain hemorrhage, epilepsy, and memory loss, after vaccination.
On Aug. 8, a video circulating online showed a middle school student in Jiangsu Province, who fainted after being vaccinated and later died despite emergency rescue efforts.
Chinese authorities have not confirmed any cases or released official statistics about adverse reactions to vaccinations. Family members who have tried to voice their concerns have faced suppression with some being banned from social media.