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Chinese Media Floats 'Herd Immunity' in Country by End of 2021

Chinese Media Floats ‘Herd Immunity’ in Country by End of 2021

The Global Times, a Chinese state propaganda outlet, suggested the communist country could “realize herd immunity by the end of 2021” against the Chinese coronavirus Friday, citing an “expert.”

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define herd immunity as “a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely.” In a herd immunity scenario, those not immune to the disease “are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.”

The Global Times, typically the most aggressive of the English-language Chinese Communist Party propaganda arms, has referred to the concept of herd immunity in previous coverage of the Chinese coronavirus as “a disaster,” “unethical,” “coldblooded,” and a “wishful gamble.” In those cases, the Times was condemning Western experts and politicians reportedly considering a strategy to pursue herd immunity against the Chinese coronavirus, in many cases through the virus infecting as many people as possible, allowing survivors to develop antibodies.

The Chinese coronavirus originated in Wuhan, central China, in November 2019.

The propaganda newspaper appeared significantly more optimistic about the prospect of herd immunity in the context of China. It cited Tao Lina, who it identified as a Party-approved vaccine expert, as saying that China has the manufacturing capability to develop enough vaccines to lead its population of 1.4 billion to herd immunity.

“To reach the goal, China needs to prepare about 2 billion vaccine doses, Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based medical expert on vaccines, told the Global Times on Friday,” the newspaper claimed, “noting that China’s vaccine production capacity could meet the demand, but mass exports could be hard.”

Tao told the newspaper that 70 percent of the Chinese population, or about 1 billion people, would need to have immunity to the virus for the plan to work.

While having condemned the governments of Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States for allegedly pursuing herd immunity, the Global Times announced uncritically that the Communist Party “is likely to officially launch a plan for herd immunity in the next half year after the key high risk groups take priority of inoculations first with others being vaccinated later as vaccine production gradually increases.”

The report did not question China’s competence to execute such a mass strategy despite the nation’s poor record on vaccine distribution. In 2018, a Chinese vaccine company, Changsheng Biotechnology, left over half a million children immunocompromised after watering down its vaccine doses for profit. The scandal resulted in mass protests around the country, including one in which angry parents assaulted a Communist Party official on video. In another incident, a state-run  Chinese pharmaceutical plant caused over 6,000 infections in Lanzhou this year after negligence resulted in a bacterial outbreak at a vaccine factory.

None of these concerns appeared in the Global Times‘ reporting of the government’s plan to distribute experimental coronavirus vaccine candidates. The newspaper instead stated that a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm claims it could manufacture 1 billion doses of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidate this year, enough doses for about half that number of people.

The Global Times concluded these plans, and dictator Xi Jinping’s vow that the Chinese population would receive the experimental cocktails for free, “inspired the public.”

As recently as September, the Global Times condemned the United States for allegedly attempting to achieve herd immunity.

“Rather than large-scale testing, quarantining infected individuals and their close contacts, and promoting vaccine development — measures taken by China against the COVID-19  [Chinese coronavirus] — the U.S. is adopting ‘herd immunity,’” the Times claimed that month, “a strategy that has already been proven ‘a disaster’ in some European countries, which Chinese experts believe is ‘a huge gamble’ to people’s health or even lives in the U.S.”

“Such ‘inaction’ reveals the helplessness of the U.S., as the world faces a potential second global outbreak of the rapidly mutating virus without a vaccine, experts noted,” the Times concluded at the time. Its experts claimed that a vaccine is necessary to pursue herd immunity.

A month later, the Times claimed reports indicated “the White House was reportedly embracing a declaration of herd immunity, drawing widespread criticism from scientists and experts.”

Similarly, in April, the Global Times condemned the government of Sweden for being “coldblooded, indifferent to life, and gravely [violating] humanitarian principles with its herd immunity strategy,” citing Chinese “netizens.” The Communist Party strictly monitors all online discourse, so only “netizens” with opinions approved by the state are allowed to post on Chinese social media.

In March, the Global Times claimed the United Kingdom would see “many deaths” in pursuing herd immunity.

Many of these reports insisted that, without a proven vaccine, herd immunity attempts through exposing large populations to the virus would result in too much death. One Chinese expert, Yanzhong Huang, told the Global Times in March that herd immunity attempts without a vaccine are a “wishful gamble.” Once American companies Pfizer and Moderna received emergency use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine candidates from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Global Times began to insist — contradicting its Sinopharm coverage — that vaccines would not help.

“[N]o country or region should rely on vaccines as a cure-all to overcome the coronavirus, experts warned, noting that strict anti-epidemic measures must be continued even after mass vaccination is conducted,” the Times claimed on December 22.

“Vaccines can’t protect everyone,” one Chinese “expert” claimed.

“‘Vaccination cannot save the US,’ Chinese experts warned, as it’s unrealistic to inject 60-70 percent of the population in a short period of  time to generate herd immunity,” the Global Times claimed in early December. The newspaper insisted that the issue was not the efficacy of the virus, but America’s alleged “social divisions, partisan conflicts and loose anti-epidemic measures.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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