(Bloomberg) -- Beijing is rolling out an insurance plan for vaccine-hesitant seniors, its biggest step yet to get its most vulnerable residents inoculated to a level that will allow China to start pivoting away from Covid Zero.
Residents in the capital aged over 60 will be provided with insurance that pays out as much as 500,000 yuan ($74,500) for “vaccination accidents,” state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing Beijing’s banking and insurance regulator. The insurance will be covered by the city’s fiscal department and is aimed at easing concerns around Covid-19 shots, it said.
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It’s the first time such a program has been rolled out in mainland China and comes as previous incentives of groceries or 1,000-yuan cash rewards failed to lift vaccination rates among seniors. China lags regional peers and the low inoculation rate has emerged as a key hurdle in navigating a path away from the strict Covid Zero policy that’s left residents living with the ever-present threat of lockdowns that can stretch for months.
Of the 264 million Chinese aged over 60, 82% are fully vaccinated and almost 64% have received a booster, according to latest figures from the National Health Commission.
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Hesitancy can trace its roots to the start of the vaccine development process. Locally developed shots, the only inoculations available in China, didn’t focus significantly on the effect on seniors in the clinical trial phase. Some doctors actively counseled elderly people with other conditions from getting shots, while China’s early Covid success meant there was a lack of urgency to get jabbed. Anti-vaccine propaganda also led to reluctance.
One of China’s top virus experts said last month that Covid Zero is meant to buy time for authorities to bolster measures, including immunization rates for the elderly, that will allow it to eventually declare victory over the virus. Officials have repeatedly defended their zero-tolerance approach -- which has drawn criticism from Chinese citizens to the World Health Organization -- and pointed to its success in bringing outbreaks under control even as it exacts an enormous economic and social toll.
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(Updates vaccination statistics in fourth paragraph.)
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