Hong Kong’s Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine roll-out is likely to resume by early next week, according to two sources.
Distribution of the German-made vaccine was abruptly put on hold last Wednesday on the advice of its supplier after the scheme’s frontline staff identified more than 50 defects to vials, including cracks, leaks and stains on their exterior.
Fosun Pharma, the agent distributing BioNTech vaccines in Hong Kong and Macau, on Tuesday said a new batch of doses was ready to be shipped, pending the results of the investigation into the packaging defects, a probe that is still ongoing.
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But the government has yet to announce when the jabs programme will resume. Currently, only the mainland China-produced Sinovac vaccine is available in the city.
A source told the Post that the government is likely to resume the injection of BioNTech “during the Easter holiday”, the five-day break set to start on Friday.
The news of the restart comes as a top health expert called on the government to release detailed information about each death that has followed a coronavirus vaccination, saying it would only serve to boost public confidence given that preliminary data have shown no direct relation to the jabs.
Hong Kong was expecting fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The current tally of confirmed infections stands at 11,461, with 205 related deaths.
Additionally, from Thursday, all travellers arriving from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan must undergo mandatory testing on the 2nd and 12th day after their arrival in Hong Kong. That will also apply to city residents returning from Macau and Guangdong province under the “Return2hk Scheme”, which exempts them from quarantine obligations provided they have a negative test result before travelling.
Previously, the testing arrangement applied only to those who entered Hong Kong through land border checkpoints from designated places in mainland China such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
“The new testing arrangements mentioned above may cause inconvenience to residents and travellers,” a government spokesman conceded.
The government has also announced that 15 beaches, including those in Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay and Shek O, and 35 public swimming pools will reopen on Friday under the latest relaxation of social-distancing measures. The pools will be required to operate at 30 per cent capacity.
City leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, has also endorsed an exemption to the four-person cap on public gatherings for religious venues, though attendance must not exceed 30 per cent of capacity. The new arrangement was expected to come into effect on Wednesday.
Premises such as bars, karaoke lounges and mahjong parlours will remain closed.
The health department on Wednesday defended its decision to not report a vaccine recipient’s death to the expert committee tasked with investigating them, saying a preliminary autopsy carried out by its own forensic pathologist had determined the 80-year-old woman died from a ruptured myocardial infarction.
A spokesman said it was the department’s professional judgment there had been no direct, causal relationship between the death and the jab, meaning it did not fit the criteria to report it to the committee.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung on Wednesday said he believed it would be better if the government had been upfront about the case given it was a death from natural causes.
“[On average], there are about two to three deaths among each 100,000 people who took the jab [in Hong Kong], which is more or less similar to overseas cases,” Ho told a radio programme. “The death cases in Hong Kong are also mostly those above 60 years old with chronic illnesses.”
Ho added: “The government can increase its transparency … For instance, by announcing death cases immediately to the public, and also assigning each death with a case number on their website and detailing the patient’s background such as risk factors, time of vaccination and death.”
“If citizens can see the information clearly, they would not feel so much worry.”
Ho added that government data released so far showed there were no safety risks for the two vaccines available in the city.
Since the mass vaccination programme rolled out in late February, about 6.1 per cent of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population, or 455,900 people, have received their first dose of the jab.
Some 304,600 received the Sinovac vaccine and about 151,300 took the BioNTech version, which has been briefly suspended following the discovery of defects involving a number of the drug’s vials after shipping.
About 0.5 per cent of the population, or 34,300 people, have received their second dose of the Sinovac vaccine.
Last Wednesday, the government abruptly stopped Hong Kong’s BioNTech vaccination roll-out on the advice of the jabs’ supplier, after the scheme’s frontline staff identified more than 50 defects to vials, including cracks, leaks and stains on their exterior.
Fosun Pharma, the agent distributing BioNTech vaccines in Hong Kong and Macau, said a new batch of doses was ready to be shipped, pending the results of the investigation into the packaging defects. But the government has yet to announce when the BioNTech programme will resume.
On Tuesday, an expert committee monitoring the adverse effects of the jabs concluded the second death following a Sinovac shot on March 6 was not caused by the vaccine. A full autopsy report showed the 55-year-old woman had died of a heart attack. The first death following a Covid-19 jab was also concluded to be unrelated to the vaccine.
Preliminary data has shown that the other 11 deaths, including two involving the BioNTech vaccine, were also not directly related to the shots.