Just 5 per cent of care home residents have been vaccinated against Covid-19 since Hong Kong rolled out its inoculation campaign in late February, the health minister has revealed, raising fears the vulnerable group could be susceptible if another wave of infections struck.
In contrast, 87 per cent of doctors working at the Department of Health have been vaccinated.
Care home residents were among priority groups first given access to Covid-19 jabs when the vaccination drive began more than four months ago. But inoculation statistics provided by Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Wednesday showed the rate was the lowest in a list of groups for which figures were available, including domestic helpers, medical professionals and other health care workers.
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As of early July, only 4,300 residents of care homes for the elderly or disabled had received at least one Covid-19 shot, accounting for 5 per cent of the group. Nearly half of the workers of such facilities, or 19,500 employees, had been jabbed.
Doctors in the public sector attained a much higher rate, with 77 per cent of those under the Hospital Authority, which manages the city’s public hospitals, inoculated on top of the 87 per cent at the health department.
But the rates for nurses were much lower, with 52 per cent for those working for the department and 43 per cent – the second-worst figure on the list – for those at public hospitals inoculated.
About 177,000 domestic helpers, or around 48 per cent of the group, had received a shot.
Around 33 per cent of the city’s 7.5 million population have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and 22.3 per cent had received two doses.
Dr Lam Ching-choi, who chairs the Elderly Commission, warned that the low vaccination rate among care home residents could put them in a more vulnerable position if the city relaxed its social-distancing rules.
“If more people have been vaccinated, social-distancing measures can be relaxed and people might no longer wear masks, those who have not been vaccinated will be more likely to be infected,” said Lam, who is also a member of the Executive Council.
He added that because vaccinated people usually developed milder symptoms if they were infected, they might not know they had Covid-19 and could pass it on without realising.
Foreign researchers were also looking into whether vulnerable groups of people who lived together, such as in care homes, would become a hotbed for coronavirus variants, he added.
He said multiple factors contributed to the lower rate among care home residents, such as misunderstanding about vaccine safety after some deaths were reported following inoculations. An expert panel which monitors the adverse effects of Covid-19 vaccines so far has not found any direct links between the jabs and the deaths.
Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, chairman of the Elderly Services Association, said long working hours of care home employees was also an obstacle for them to get vaccinated, in addition to a lack of outreach vaccination services for staff at the early stage of the inoculation campaign.
Separately, around 19,500 visitors from mainland China had received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the city as of Sunday, after the inoculation scheme was extended to cover them in late May. About half of them had also taken the second dose.
In a survey released by the Patients and Healthcare Professionals Rights Association on Wednesday, 68 per cent of respondents were still worried about being physically unfit for Covid-19 jabs.
The poll interviewed 933 unvaccinated Hongkongers aged 16 and older last month.
Association chairman Dr Jeffrey Pong Chiu-fai said offering pre-jab health assessments, as well as providing the German-made BioNTech vaccine in clinics rather than just in community vaccination centres, could help boost the city’s inoculation rate.
Additional reporting by Ngai Yeung