Getting the covid-19 vaccine in China

Until late last month, China didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get the general population vaccinated against covid-19. After all, there are barely any cases here! When I check some YouTube videos related to the topic, though, there’s invariably some people insisting that China’s current numbers are made up. “If not, why would people still wear masks?”, they wonder. Ah, it must be so painful to accept that we’ve been back to normal life for a year already! But I digress. As I was saying, only risk groups (hospital staff, cold chain workers, and the like) were being vaccinated, but around mid March it was announced that everybody would soon be able to book an appointment to get the jab.

In China there are currently five approved vaccines, all domestic. They use inactivated virus and don’t need to be kept at very low temperatures, so they are being exported to underdeveloped countries too. Their efficacy is lower than the western vaccines and it’s something between 50% and 79%, depending on the particular brand, I think. However, they are said to be 100% effective preventing severe infections. It’s not clear if you can still get the virus and be contagious even though you were vaccinated, but at least you won’t end up in the hospital… or that’s how I understand it. Another difference with the Chinese vaccines is that they are only approved to be used in people aged 18-59, so people over 60 are not being vaccinated for the moment. The elderly have never been a risk group here and there haven’t been outbreaks in assisted living facilities… because they are very scarce in China as elders live with their children.

So, a couple of weeks ago I went to my neighbourhood health center to ask how to book a vaccination appointment. Chinese people can use an app, but of course it does’t work if you don’t have a Chinese ID number. I was sent to my residential compound’s neighbourhood committee and I was added to their vaccination list. They were very efficient and got us a spot for the very next day. As a fun fact, I didn’t even need to tell the lady in the neighbourhood committee which building and apartment I live in, because she already knew who I was! (And there are over 60 buildings in this compound… I am being watched!).

When we arrived to the health center there was quite a long (and orderly) waiting line and a nurse was checking that everybody had the confirmation sms with the appointment. It seems they didn’t register people by the ID or passport number, but just allowed entrance based on the sms. At the door there was another nurse taking the temperature and, surprise surprise, she also knew me and my son (because he goes there for his regular vaccines and check-ups).

The line before us…
The line behind us.

Although there was a lot of people, the line moved quite fast. The vaccine is free for Chinese people and for foreigners on the national health system; the rest have to pay 100 yuan (about 15 USD/12 EUR). We were given the Sinopharm vaccine, which has the highest efficacy among the Chinese ones. It needs 2 doses, but there’s another vaccine that requires 3!

We had a slight side effect, which was that our arm hurt like if someone had punched it. Well, personally I hardly consider this a side effect as it is of minimal importance.

So, while I wait for my second shot, I can say that I am semi-safe! I think China is now in a hurry to vaccinate the majority of the population so the borders can be opened again… they have been almost totally closed to foreigners for over a year!