On August 31, police in Hunan province forced Zhang Jianping into a car and took him to a hospital, where he was injected with a COVID-19 vaccine against his will. Mr. Zhang's story is not unique: in recent months, there have been numerous reports of forced vaccinations across China.
The Chinese government has set a target of fully vaccinating 1.1 billion people, or 80% of the population, by the end of October. In order to achieve this goal, local authorities have resorted to a variety of coercive tactics, including threats, harassment, and even physical force.
In some cases, authorities have threatened to cut off welfare benefits or deny children school enrollment if their families refuse vaccination. In other cases, they have forced people to sign consent forms under duress. In at least one case, a police officer allegedly beat a man into submission before vaccinating him.
The Chinese government's forced vaccination tactics are a violation of human rights. International law allows governments to require people to be vaccinated, but not through physical force or undue coercion. Forced vaccination is a form of assault and battery, and it violates people's right to bodily autonomy.
The Chinese government's forced vaccination tactics are also likely to backfire. Instead of building trust in the government and vaccines, they are likely to alienate the public and breed distrust. This is especially true given China's history of vaccine scandals and cover-ups.
In 2018, a whistleblower revealed that a Chinese vaccine manufacturer had been falsifying data and producing vaccines that were below safety standards. The scandal led to a widespread loss of confidence in Chinese-made vaccines.
The Chinese government has tried to address public concerns about vaccine safety, but its efforts have been undermined by its own censorship and secrecy. In 2020, the government detained several activists who had been advocating for vaccine safety.
The Chinese government needs to change its approach to vaccination. Instead of relying on coercion, it should focus on building trust and transparency. The government should release detained activists, institute transparency measures around vaccine development, safety, and regulation, and address public concerns about vaccine safety head-on.
Here are some specific steps that the Chinese government can take to improve its vaccination program:
Release all activists who have been detained for advocating for vaccine safety.
Institute transparency measures around vaccine development, safety, and regulation. This includes releasing data on clinical trials, adverse events, and vaccine ingredients.
Address public concerns about vaccine safety head-on. This includes holding regular press conferences and answering questions from the public.
Allow people to refuse vaccination without fear of retaliation. This includes protecting people from being fired from their jobs, denied access to services, or harassed by the government.
By taking these steps, the Chinese government can build trust with the public and improve its vaccination rate. Forced vaccination is not the answer.