Coronavirus: government advisory panel ‘unanimously backs’ extending Hong Kong’s vaccination scheme to children as young as 12

·4-min read

Hong Kong children as young as 12 could soon be vaccinated against the coronavirus after a government advisory panel unanimously backed expanding the city’s inoculation programme.

A source said all 12 members of the Advisory Panel on Covid-19 Vaccines had by Wednesday voted for recommending BioNTech shots to children aged 12 to 15.

The recommendation would be passed to Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee for final approval. The Post has asked the Food and Health Bureau when that would be given.

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The results of the vote came after Fosun Pharma, which distributes BioNTech vaccines in China, submitted an application to the Department of Health last Saturday to lower the minimum age threshold for vaccine eligibility to 12.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a government pandemic adviser who sits on the panel, urged all eligible children to get the vaccine. “If a child has been taking vaccines necessary for children, why can’t they be vaccinated with the Covid-19 shots?” Yuen said.

He said one of the keys to encouraging vaccination among children was parents’ perception of the shots.

“If parents do not accept vaccination, usually they would not let their children get the vaccines too,” Yuen said. “It is important to change the public perception, which is a bit biased, on vaccine side effects.”

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Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, another coronavirus adviser who is also part of the panel, said earlier that new data from clinical trials of the BioNTech vaccine supported lowering the threshold from 16 to 12 years old. He added health experts in the city “largely echoed the same view”.

“The data [from the clinical trials] is ideal, and other places such as the US and Europe have approved [lowering the age threshold] so it has made it easier for us to decide,” Hui told a radio station on Wednesday.

Hui cited phase-three clinical data from a Fosun Pharma study involving 2,260 people aged 12 to 15.

The protection rate against Covid-19 was 100 per cent for those vaccinated compared with the placebo group, Hui said, adding some common side effects were experienced but there were no serious adverse reactions.

Professor David Hui is one of the government’s pandemic advisers. Photo: Winson Wong
Professor David Hui is one of the government’s pandemic advisers. Photo: Winson Wong

Hui said the vaccination drive could be carried out on school campuses during the summer break to get young people inoculated before the start of the new academic year in September.

He said teachers should also get vaccinated because of the high number of interactions between educators and students on a day-to-day basis.

Meanwhile, Chan told a different radio programme that health authorities would have to discuss with the Education Bureau the potential for outreach teams to vaccinate students on school grounds.

According to a statement issued late on Tuesday, the Department of Health received an application last Saturday from Fosun Pharma to lower the minimum age to 12 for getting the vaccine under the city’s inoculation drive.

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The bureau acknowledged receipt of the phase-three clinical trial data from Fosun Pharma and said relevant information about the vaccine had been submitted to the city’s advisory panel on Covid-19 vaccines for consideration.

Hong Kong announced on April 15 that it was expanding its vaccination to cover people aged 16 to 29. Currently, the minimum age for receiving the BioNTech vaccine is 16, compared with 18 for the Sinovac version.

A total of some 2.47 million doses of the vaccine have been administered since the inoculation drive began in late February. About 18.9 per cent of the city’s population of 7.5 million people have received their first vaccine jab, while 14 per cent have taken two shots.

About 32,400 people were vaccinated on Wednesday, and about 41,700 new bookings were made online.

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