Hong Kong is looking at prioritising Covid-19 vaccination for young people aged 12 to 17 under a plan to extend the Sinovac jabs programme to minors, the Post has learned.
An official source said the government was considering only offering the vaccine to older children initially, a similar arrangement to the one in mainland China, but added the administration would first seek advice from the Centre for Health Protection’s joint scientific committee.
The government’s Covid-19 vaccine advisers on Monday recommended lowering the minimum age to three years for getting vaccinated with the mainland-produced Sinovac jab, from the current 18.
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Currently, the minimum age for receiving a coronavirus jab in Hong Kong is 12, but only with the BioNTech vaccine. The German manufacturer has not submitted an application to lower that.
The government’s Advisory Panel on Covid-19 Vaccines urged the health authorities on Monday to contact Fosun Pharma, the agent distributing BioNTech vaccines in Hong Kong and Macau, to obtain more data for experts to examine the possibility of offering the jab to children aged five to 11.
Dr Ho Pak-leung, an infectious diseases expert from the University of Hong Kong, said on Tuesday the city needed to lower the Sinovac age threshold to 12 or below to ensure more of the population was vaccinated.
He suggested the government roll out the Sinovac vaccination scheme for youngsters in phases, starting with secondary school pupils, before opening it up to those in primary school and kindergarten.
“Safety of the vaccine is the most important issue … The effectiveness of the Sinovac jab [for children] still needs to be backed up by phase 3 clinical data and real-world observational data, ” he told a radio programme.
He added the Sinovac vaccine was proved to be safe, noting 50 million under 18s on the mainland had already received the jab and the number of Central America and South America countries also allowing it to be administered to children as young as three.
As of Monday, Hong Kong had inoculated more than 4.6 million people or 69.5 per cent of its total population with the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
About 72.61 per cent of those aged between 12 and 19 had been vaccinated with one dose of a vaccine. Government health experts advise that adolescents aged 12 to 17 only need a single shot of the BioNTech vaccine.
Professor Lau Yu-lung, who chairs the advisory panel, said that after more than two hours of discussions experts concluded that the Sinovac vaccine was safe and effective on children. The BioNTech shot has raised concerns among parents after some teenagers developed myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle – or other side effects.
Lau said the risks of myopericarditis – also a type of heart inflammation – for children after Sinvoac inoculation was close to zero.
Lau did not directly respond to the question of whether the advisory panel was unanimous in recommending the Sinovac jab for younger people.
He said there was mutual respect among the experts for each other’s opinions and added the recommendation was reached together.
Meanwhile, Langton Cheung Yung-pong, chairman of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association, welcomed the decision.
Cheung said he believed it would take time for parents to consider the advice and make their decision, although resuming full-day classes might not be a strong incentive for taking the jab as most people had already adapted to half-day sessions.
“But having a choice is always better than having no options,” he said.
The mainland started administering vaccines to children aged 12 to 17 in July. It was further extended in late October to three- to 11-year-olds in areas including Hubei, Hunan and Hainan provinces.
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