COVID-19: China ‘making tremendous progress’ in getting every older adult vaccinated

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Dr. Kate O’Brien of the World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the change in China’s initial “zero-dose” policy for the elderly had left some unsure about asking for a coronavirus vaccine now.

“Obviously, with the need for older adults to be protected, it has been difficult for older adults to kind of change their understanding of the recommendation and move forward with that first recommendation on adult vulnerability. China is making tremendous strides and efforts to reach every older adult with both primary doses and booster doses.”

Dr. O’Brien, the director of the UN Health Organization for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologics, said the WHO “will look with great anticipation” at data from China on routine immunizations for 2022.

During the peak of the pandemic, many countries had provided WHO with vaccine data on a monthly basis, but more recently there has been a notable downturn, “and we really don’t want that,” said Dr. O’Brien.

Keep vaccinating

She stressed that based on evidence, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination far outweigh the potential risk of side effects from the vaccines and that the effectiveness of current injections depends on people taking all of their recommended doses. As of January 2023, 83 percent of the world’s population has been vaccinated.

“The vaccines we need to protect against COVID-19 are… very effective at preventing serious illness and death, although they are less effective at preventing people from getting infected or being passed on to someone else,” she told journalists in Geneva.

However, she said, “maximizing this effectiveness against hospitalization, serious illness and death really depends on people taking all recommended doses and that’s especially important for people who are in high-priority groups.”

No evidence for a link between stroke and mRNA vaccines

Dr. O’Brien noted that, based on US data monitoring vaccine safety, concerns have emerged in recent weeks about the possibility that mRNA vaccines — such as the Moderna and Pfizer COVID vaccines — may increase stroke risk among the increase the elderly population.

According to her, “the review of reports … found no further evidence to substantiate an association between mRNA vaccine and strokes.”

“But I do want to emphasize that we already knew there was a risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which has also recently received attention.”

This has been linked to COVID-19 vaccines, the WHO said, but is a rare event. When it occurs, it is typically mild, responsive to treatment, and less severe than myocarditis found in COVID-19 disease, or myocarditis due to any other cause.

“What I really want to emphasize is that our advice to the public remains that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination far outweigh the potential risk. This is based on evidence.”

Routine driving vaccinations

She also announced that WHO would rapidly ramp up routine vaccinations for preventable diseases over the coming year.

In 2021 alone, 25 million children missed routine vaccinations, she stressed.

“We have cumulatively more than 50 million children who are now missing critical vaccines against measles, rubella, diphtheria and other life-threatening infections for which we vaccinate,” said Dr. O’Brien.



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