China ramps up vaccination drive with free eggs, other goods

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A medical worker stands near billboards portraying renowned Chinese Dr. Zhong Nanshan with the words "Vaccine China Made" at a vaccination site in Beijing on Friday, April 9, 2021. China's success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a population that has seemed almost reluctant to get vaccinated. Now, it is accelerating its inoculation campaign by offering incentives free eggs, store coupons and discounts on groceries and merchandise to those getting a shot. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

TAIPEI – China's success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a population that has seemed almost reluctant to get vaccinated. So it is accelerating its inoculation campaign by offering incentives — free eggs, store coupons and discounts on groceries and merchandise — to those getting a shot.

After a slow start, China is now giving millions of shots a day. On March 26 alone, it administered 6.1 million shots. A top government doctor, Zhong Nanshan, has announced a June goal of vaccinating 560 million of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

The challenge lies partly in the sheer scale of the effort and the need to convince a population that currently feels safe from infections.

When patients first showed up at hospitals in Wuhan in late 2019 with fevers, coughs and breathing difficulties, the government locked down the city and others in Hubei province for more than two months starting in January 2020. Wuhan later became known as the epicenter of the outbreak.

Since then, China has controlled the virus through stringent border controls and quick lockdowns whenever new outbreaks crop up. People can dine out in restaurants and the risk of infection is low, so many don't seem to be in a hurry to get the vaccine.

“I think everyone has a sense of security and comfort, and there’s no big rush to get vaccinated unless you are asked to do so,” said Helen Chen, a health care specialist at a market research firm in Shanghai.

But China also wants to open up as the world seeks to return to pre-pandemic normalcy and Beijing readies to welcome tens of thousands of visitors as host of the Winter Olympics in February 2022. While successful with swift lockdowns and a robust contact tracing system via smartphones, the government is also weighing those measures in balance with an eventual return to normalcy.

For now, in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the government has relied mostly on sustained messaging and freebies to convince people to get vaccinated.