Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has yet to inform the public if he has been inoculated against the Chinese coronavirus or if he plans to, and at press time has not participated in any public efforts to promote his government’s vaccination drive.
Xi’s absence is particularly striking given that he is actively using his high profile for other efforts, such as promoting China’s Belt and Road Initiative and participating in President Joe Biden’s international summit on climate change scheduled for Thursday. Xi mentioned the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which began in China, during remarks to the Boao economic forum this week, urging countries to “strengthen global governance” to end the crisis.
Elsewhere around the world, in nations with higher vaccination rates, heads of state and government have taken to publicizing their vaccines. Leaders like Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky received their vaccinations in front of television cameras or published photographs of the event. More discreet leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer any proof of their vaccination but issued statements claiming to be vaccinated through their spokespeople.
The Chinese communist regime has offered no information at all regarding Xi’s inoculation status or intentions regarding vaccination at press time. At age 67, Xi is in an age range that is at high risk for severe coronavirus complications.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry fielded a question regarding Xi’s vaccination status in March, resulting in a spokeswoman answering, “I have no answer at this moment. Vaccine is our silver bullet for epidemic prevention and for our ultimate victory against the virus.” Beijing has offered no further clarification since.
Xi aroused suspicions that he may have been vaccinated that month at the annual convening of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp legislature. Neither Xi nor other members of the Politburo wore masks, despite the event taking place indoors and bringing together thousands of people.
Fortune, noting the Politburo members breaking their own indoor mask requirements, observed at the time that China’s vaccination rate against coronavirus is so low, “at the current pace it will be more than nine years before 75% of its vast population is immunized, versus six months for the U.S.”
On Wednesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) announced it had administered 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses (China is home to about 1.4 billion people) and claimed 80 percent of the nation’s health workers had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
The Communist Party of China has struggled throughout the year, following the approval of at least five homemade coronavirus vaccine products for public use, to convince Chinese citizens to receive vaccine doses. Clinical trial data show China’s vaccine candidates are some of the world’s most poorly performing, most prominently the vaccine product developed by the firm Sinovac Biotech, which tested at only 50.38 percent efficacy at preventing coronavirus infections. The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CDC), Gao Fu, lamented publicly this month that China’s vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” adding to public concerns.
A CDC immunologist said Wednesday that the poor performance of Chinese vaccine candidates may result in people needing booster shots at an annual rate, requiring an even greater commitment from a general public already hesitant to participate in initial vaccination.
Zhong Nanshan, China’s top respiratory disease expert, said in March that he fears China is vaccinating at such slow rates that the rest of the world may reach herd immunity while the nation continues to struggle with infections — a message at odds with Xi Jinping’s words in Wuhan in March 2020, when he declared the local epidemic over. Xi was also notably absent from Wuhan, where the virus originated, between December 2019 and March 2020, when the outbreak was at its most severe there.
“If China continues with such a low vaccination rate, it will not keep up. There’s a possibility that in the future, other countries will have [herd immunity] but China doesn’t,” Zhong warned in March. Zhong lamented that Chinese citizens believed the pandemic was “under control” because their government had told them so, making a vaccine unnecessary.
Chinese provincial officials have attempted to entice citizens to receive vaccine doses by offering free groceries, ice cream, and other perks, or by threatening to publish “blacklists” of individuals who refuse the vaccine for public shaming. The divergent tactics have prompted a feud between Beijing officials and local Communist Party cadres. NHC issued a statement in early April calling the punitive measures “inappropriate.”
Xi Jinping’s tenure at the helm of the Chinese nation has been defined by a series of nationwide disasters involving poor production and distribution of vaccines, making his absence in promoting the Chinese coronavirus products even more notable. The largest scandal erupted in 2018 after authorities confirmed that major pharmaceutical company Changsheng Biotechnology had knowingly distributed faulty vaccines meant for children nationwide. Manufacturers had watered down vaccine doses or knowingly sold poorly made doses of vaccines against rabies and diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT). Nearly one million non-functioning vaccine doses made it to patients, resulting in hundreds of thousands of immunocompromised children.
The outrage resulted in extreme distrust of Chinese vaccine manufacturers and some violent incidents, including the public gang beating of a Communist Party official by a mob of angry parents in Jiangsu province.
Chinese state media loudly claimed Xi was personally at the helm of a hearing in which 40 top Party officials were fired for their role in the scandal. Most executives at Changsheng Biotechnology have faced prosecution.
In September, as Beijing prepared for a coronavirus vaccination campaign, thousands of people tested positive for a rare bacterial disease known as brucellosis in Lanzhou, northwest China, after a vaccine plant owned by the company China Animal Husbandry Industry Co leaked the bacteria responsible for the disease. Authorities later found that the company had been using expired disinfectants to save money, failing to contain the bacteria within the facility.