Commentary: Why China is more willing to test millions than trust vaccination

Only about half of people aged 80 and older had received their primary vaccinations by March. This has likely gone up a little after China introduced insurance against vaccine-related side effects for those aged 60 and above.

Could China allocate resources for testing to getting more people vaccinated instead? Besides the fact that there will always be people who cannot get vaccinated on medical grounds, China has preferred to keep vaccination voluntary and even urged local authorities to stop mandatory vaccinations in April 2021.

The marginal costs of pushing all citizens to receive vaccines, especially booster doses, can be extremely high given the population size and vast territory.

This is a concern when China has already become an ageing society, with 18.7 per cent of the population aged 60 and above and a population growing more slowly than before. Urban-rural and regional disparities can make the elderly more vulnerable in some regions, where medical services and capacity are not sufficient to handle the outbreak of a pandemic.


Even with the protection from the vaccines, the elderly are at higher risk of severe illness, complications and death if infected.

Since none of the current vaccines can provide complete immunity against infection, the Chinese government appears to have decided that the safest choice is the normalisation of non-pharmaceutical interventions. This includes mass testing, enhanced surveillance and quarantine measures.

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Fearing that the numbers of deaths and infections may still surge despite vaccination, local governments are busy building more testing booths and makeshift hospitals, trying to turn many of them into permanent sites.

Artmotion Asia

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