Posted on: December 21, 2022, 10:44h. 

Last updated on: December 21, 2022, 12:26h.

Macau is experiencing an uptick in visitor arrivals from mainland China, but the guests aren’t coming to gamble.

Macau vaccine COVID-19 China zero-COVID
A COVID-19 community vaccination center in Hong Kong. Macau, the other Special Administrative Region in China, is also offering mRNA vaccines, but availability for non-residents is on hold until late January 2023. (Image: Bloomberg)

China is ending its “zero-COVID” policy that has kept normal life on hold for more than three years. But as China President Xi Jinping’s directive lifts, there are widespread concerns that China’s population will pay the ultimate cost of Beijing’s flawed pandemic response program.

Health officials around the world have long criticized China’s “zero-COVID” policy for being irresponsible, as a world completely free of the coronavirus is implausible. While the policy likely saved many lives over the past three years, health experts believe the significant isolations have compromised China’s herd immunity.

China’s more than 1.4 billion people are now free to move about the country with limited restrictions. Hospitals across the mainland are already reporting significant COVID-19 hospitalizations. With herd immunity suppressed, there are also concerns that various other viruses will run rampant this winter.

Macau Vaccines

With Chinese people free to venture outside of their homes regardless of their region’s current COVID-19 caseload, many are seeking better coronavirus vaccines than the ones that the mainland government offered. China approved eight vaccines for use in combating COVID-19. But health officials outside of the country say the Communist Party-produced vaccines are far less effective than the vaccines developed in the US.

China’s CoronaVac, for instance, a vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech, is estimated to be about 60% effective in preventing severe complications from the coronavirus. For comparison, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are said to be about 97% effective in averting severe complications.

China has refused to allow Pfizer and Moderna vaccines into the country. But Macau, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic that operates in a semi-autonomous fashion, is distributing mRNA vaccines (messenger ribonucleic acid).

An mRNA vaccine, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, is a type of vaccine that uses a copy of a molecule called messenger RNA to produce an immune response. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vehicles.

“The vaccine delivers molecules of antigen-encoding mRNA into immune cells, which use the designed mRNA as a blueprint to build foreign protein that would normally be produced by a pathogen (such as a virus) or by a cancer cell,” the hospital explained.

Vaccine Hesitancy

The South China Morning Post reports a rush of mainlanders into Macau for mRNA vaccines has resulted in vaccination clinics being overrun. Macau’s Health Bureau says there are no more vaccination appointments available for nonresidents until late January 2023.

There has been widespread vaccination hesitancy on the mainland. That’s because of China’s decision not to approve mRNA vaccines in favor of its own country-produced shots. The shots have also reportedly caused severe side effects.

China hasn’t said why it hasn’t allowed Pfizer or Moderna vaccines into the country other than for emergency use and for administration to foreigners. China policy experts believe it’s Xi’s way of attempting to demonstrate his country’s self-resiliency.

Officially, China’s claimed vaccination rate is above 90%. But the rate for adults who have received booster shots is less than 58%, and for people aged 80 and older, the rate declines to just 43%.