Less than 40 per cent of Hongkongers are willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine shot, a university survey has found, worrying researchers who say it is far below the necessary rate to achieve significant protection for the city’s population.
Residents interviewed this past summer by Chinese University’s medical school cited the potential for unknown side effects and logistical problems with the jabs in returning an overall acceptance figure of just 37.2 per cent.
“It’s a very low figure, and we are a bit worried about it, as it is just around half of the recommended vaccination rate of 70 per cent,” Professor Paul Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of the university’s department of microbiology, said at a Tuesday press conference.
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He noted the percentage was significantly lower than the acceptance rates of 60 to 90 per cent found in countries such as Australia, Germany, Britain and the United States in a separate study that was published last month but has yet to be peer-reviewed.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday revealed that experts from the government’s vaccination advisory panel would meet this week to begin reviewing data from the three types of Covid-19 vaccines procured by the government.
The vaccination programme is expected to be rolled out around the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February.
The Chinese University survey, conducted between July 27 and August 27, when the city was in the grip of a third Covid-19 wave, involved interviews with 1,200 adults. It was also conducted at a time when there was less information about Covid-19 vaccines, and before the Hong Kong government had announced its procurement plan.
The prevalence of chronic diseases among them is also lower than for elderly people. They might perceive themselves at lower risk
Professor Paul Chan on vaccination acceptance among those aged 25-34
Interviewees aged 25 to 34 were found to have the lowest acceptance rate, at 24.4 per cent, while the highest rates were found at the two far ends of the age spectrum.
Just over 40 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 were willing to take a jab. Then, following the dip in the 25 to 34 bracket, acceptance began to increase gradually with the respondents’ age, reaching a peak of 47.6 per cent among those aged 65 or older.
Professor Martin Wong Chi-sang, from the university’s school of public health, said he believed the low acceptance rates among those aged 25 to 34 could likely be attributed to busy work schedules, as well as positive perceptions of their own health.
“It is more likely for this group of people to have a full-time job. They might have a bit more to consider in terms of making time for vaccinations,” Wong said.
“The prevalence of chronic diseases among them is also lower than for elderly people. They might perceive themselves at lower risk [of getting infected]. ”
Chan said the rates might vary if another survey were to be conducted now, noting that the overseas study published last month showed vaccine acceptance rates across five countries, including Britain and Spain, trending downward with the passage of time.
But he said the school’s study still managed to identify factors influencing people’s willingness to be vaccinated, something that could help draft a more tailor-made policy for Hong Kong.
For example, those with chronic diseases, who might develop more serious symptoms after infection, and those who simply had more trust in the public health care system tended to be more willing to receive a jab.
The survey also concluded the government had more influence than even doctors and family members when it comes to persuading residents to take the vaccine.
On the other hand, concerns over possible side effects and difficulties in getting a jab, including the number of locations and available time slots, were factors pushing some away from the vaccination programme.
Wong said extra incentives could be provided to get people past those concerns.
“After vaccination, could there be a certificate [of health], or could there be flexible working hours to allow people to be vaccinated more easily?” he said.
While some pro-establishment lawmakers have suggested cash rewards be employed to convince residents to get the shots, Wong said it would be a controversial move.
“It is indeed an effective and the most direct way in getting more people to get vaccinated,” he said. “But people might also wonder whether getting jabs is such a troublesome and risky matter that it requires monetary compensation.”
Speaking ahead of her Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Lam ruled out offering cash incentives.
“We will continue with promotion, and public education. Our experts will also help,” she said.
“But we will not provide financial incentives. The vaccines are free, and we will have enough vaccines if two jabs are needed for a particular type of drug. But it has to be voluntary.”
The researchers also suggested health authorities could raise public confidence by disseminating more information about the potential impact of Covid-19 on different age groups and how the vaccines were certified, as well as being transparent about any side effects seen locally.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung earlier said the government had been setting up digital platforms for the public to download their Covid-19 test records and arrange inoculations.
The booking system’s impending launch was revealed last month by Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit Wing-hang, who said users would be allowed to choose their preferred vaccine and book two inoculation slots at the same time.
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