I just got my first dose of China’s COVID-19 vaccine. It’s only been a few hours, but I feel fine so far. Except for maybe a little bit a sensation like somebody punched me in the arm. But that’s normal. Right?
China’s Been Waiting for a While to Get a Vaccine
It seems like access to vaccines in China have been a long time coming. While I read about people in America getting vaccinated, nobody here seemed to have any idea when they would start doling out doses here. We heard rumors about people lining up for experimental vaccinations, and about millions of doses being sent to Africa and Latin America, but nothing about a vaccination program within China itself.
There was definitely no sense of urgency about it. China managed to clamp down on COVID-19 fairly quickly, despite being the first country to be hit by it. With a combination of quarantines, targeted lockdowns and mask-wearing, the country actually ended up reopening and feeling pretty normal. We all went out to bars and restaurants and watched with horror as deaths climbed in America and elsewhere. But at the same time, I think this led to a bit of complacency about vaccinations.
Thankfully, though, somebody in the higher echelons of the Chinese government realized the country needed vaccines. China launched a massive vaccination program, aiming to inoculate half a billion people by June.
I’m happy to become one of those half a billion, although I’m a little upset they didn’t give me any free ice cream like they did for some people.
Registering for China’s Vaccine
So how does one go about getting a vaccine in China? Well, like almost everything else in the country, you use WeChat.
They made a “Health Cloud” mini-APP for foreigners. It’s fairly easy to use, and you can switch from Chinese to English, which is helpful. I registered and uploaded a picture of my passport and residence permit. Then it was time to make an appointment.
I registered at about 4:00pm on a Wednesday. I selected my nearest clinic, and looked for available appointments. The only opening was at 2:30pm that day. I figured I probably couldn’t make it to that one in time, since at the moment I can only move forward through time linearly.
The problem with the Health Cloud app is that you have to cancel your registration and reregister if you want to look for appointments at a different clinic. It took about two weeks of registering and deregistering, and checking back every few hours or so, to find an opening.
Thankfully, I saw an opening. I snatched it up and made my appointment. The wait made the successful booking all the more sweet.
I Almost Had to Wait in Line
I left my house to head to my vaccination appointment about 40 minutes beforehand, to give myself time to get lost if I needed to. As I was on my way, I got a text message saying the appointment location had been changed. I panicked for a moment, but then realized the new location was only a block away from the original one.
As I walked up to the clinic, I saw a huge crowd of people lined up outside. Hundreds of people, shoved between metal barricades under blue awnings, all waiting to be vaccinated. Because, of course, this is China, and there are literally millions of people who all want vaccines.
Thankfully, an angel in an orange vest saved me. A district health volunteer came up to me and asked me, in very broken English, if I was Canadian. I told him no, I was American. He smiled and led me past the line, through the big glass doors and into the clinic.
I felt like a celebrity being ushered past the crowd on the red carpet of a big Hollywood premier. Except that a few of the Chinese people who had been waiting started groaning and complaining as I walked by.
I have no idea why I was given priority, and I feel kind of bad about it, like are the Changning district volunteers just internalizing colonialism? Was I abusing my white privilege? On the other hand… I really didn’t want to spend all day waiting in line.
Inside the Vaccination Clinic
The clinic had an English-speaking volunteer who helped usher me to the registration table. The lady scanned the barcode from the Health Cloud app, and took my payment for 100 yuan (about $15 U.S.) and gave me a piece of paper.
Then I was led to a doctor looking lady. She took the piece of paper, then scanned my barcode again. There were some computer issues, and I had a moment of panic. What if there was some problem, and it turned out that the Chinese Communist Party had for some reason banned me from getting vaccinated? But, no. It was just a dumb computer problem.
The lady then pulled out a little box from a cooler with my name on it. Like, it literally had my name written on it, in all capital letters. She took the vaccine dose from the box, stuck it on a fresh needle, and jabbed the needle in my arm. Then I went to wait for 30 minutes to make sure there were no immediate side effects. They told me not to take a bath or do any strenuous exercise. What a good excuse to be lazy!
Sometimes, China can feel like organized chaos. The vaccination was far less chaotic than I expected. Everyone who worked at the clinic was very friendly and helpful.
Now I just need to schedule my next dose in 3 weeks.
Any Regrets? No
There have been a few headlines lately questioning the efficacy of China’s COVID-19 vaccines. However, from my rudimentary virology knowledge, anything over 50% effective is still alright. And, all the major approved vaccines so far have proven to be 100% effective in decreasing the severity of the disease if you do catch it. I’ll trust the WHO until I hear otherwise.
So that’s that. I’m now officially halfway vaccinated. I hope this means that I’ll soon be able to travel the world once again without worrying about spreading the plague. It’s been a long wait, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of this pandemic.