In the span of just five days last month, China gave out 100 million shots of its vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
After a slow start, China is now doing what virtually no other country in the world can: leveraging the power and all-encompassing reach of its one-party system and a maturing domestic vaccine industry to administer shots at a staggering pace. The rollout is far from perfect, including uneven distribution, but Chinese public health leaders now say they’re hoping to inoculate 80 percent of the population of 1.4 billion by the end of the year.
As of Wednesday, China had given out more than 704 million doses — with nearly half of those in May alone. China’s total is roughly a third of the 1.9 billion shots distributed globally, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
The call to get vaccinated comes from every corner of society. Companies offer shots to their employees, schools urge their students and staffers, and local government workers check on their residents.
That pressure underscores both the system’s strength, which makes it possible to even consider vaccinating more than a billion people this year, but also the risks to civil liberties — a concern the world over but one that is particularly acute in China, where there are few protections.
“The Communist Party has people all the way down to every village, every neighborhood,” said Ray Yip, former country director for the Gates Foundation in China and a public health expert. “That’s the draconian part of the system, but it also gives very powerful mobilization.”
China is now averaging about 19 million shots per day, according to Our World in Data’s rolling seven-day average. That would mean a dose for everyone in Italy about every three days. The United States, with about one-quarter of China’s population, reached around 3.4 million shots per day in April when its drive was at full tilt.
It’s still unclear how many people in China are fully vaccinated — which can mean anywhere from one to three doses of the vaccines in use — as the government does not publicly release that data.