COVID in Shanghai: March 2021 Update

I’ve been reading a lot of American news about progress getting the U.S. population vaccinated against COVID-19. Up until last week, it did not feel like much progress with vaccinations was being made around me, where I live in Shanghai. Then BOOM! starting last week, it seemed like suddenly everyone around me was getting their first shots.

There’s an interesting attitude about the COVID vaccination among Chinese friends I talk to. Almost no one I talked to wanted to get it early, but pretty much everyone seems to be getting it now. Last week when I mentioned that old people (over 59) can’t get vaccinated yet, the universal reaction was, “that would be too risky!” So there seems to be a common distrust in the quality of the medical testing, but also a general commitment to everyone getting vaccinated. But this week the elderly are starting their their vaccinations in Shanghai already. My 70-year-old Shanghainese mother-in-law is getting vaccinated right now, as I write this.

And what of us foreigners? There has been more than a little cynicism among expats I’ve talked to. Surely we’re absolute lowest priority? A Chinese friend, echoing the lack of faith in medical testing I mentioned, said something along the lines of, “it’s too risky to give the Chinese vaccinations to foreigners early, because if anything goes wrong, it’ll turn into a big news story.”

But COVID vaccinations for foreigners started this past Monday, March 29. You can sign up through WeChat. Still, I don’t actually know anyone here who’s done it here, and my own attempt to make an appointment failed. Whether that was due to high demand or a buggy reservation system rollout, I can’t say.

COVID Vaccination Reservation FAIL

I expect that a lot of foreigners living in Shanghai will be getting the vaccine in April, though. You could say that vaccine is the key that unlocks our gilded cage. A lot of us are itching to get out of China, even for just a little while (even if it’s not yet practical to go back to our home countries for a visit).

Meanwhile, life continues in Shanghai more or less as usual, with masks required in some places (public transit, hospitals, etc.) and large shopping malls taking the temperature of anyone who enters.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’m “old” (59) and I’ve had both shots without much downside reaction. (In the US, they’re doing it the other way around, older people (70+) first.)

    In chatting with my (amazing) AllSet Learning tutors about it, they all seemed a little concerned about me – this kind of explains why!

    And as much as some folks are itching to get out of China for a bit, there’s lots of us that can’t wait to head the other way. Hopefully soon!!

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