Covid vaccine hesitancy could see Hong Kong throw away doses

Hong Kong could soon be throwing away Covid-19 vaccine doses because not enough people are taking them before they expire, a health official has warned, saying it’s “not right” while other countries are scrambling for them.

The city of 7.5 million people has bought enough doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and China’s Sinovac, to vaccinate its entire population, but so far only 2.1 million have been administered since the vaccination programme launched in late February.

Thomas Tsang, a former controller of the Centre for Health Protection and member of the government’s vaccine taskforce warned there was only a three-month window to use the first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines on hand in the city, which must be stored at low temperatures and used within six months.

“They cannot be used after the expiry date and the community vaccination centres for BioNTech will, according to present plans, cease operating after September,” Tsang told RTHK.

“The whole world is scrambling for vaccines and it is just not right that we can buy a vaccine overnight and we just have it. What we have is probably all we have for the rest of the year.”

Observers have blamed factors including community mistrust in the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, disinformation and misinformation and a lack of urgency from authorities. In March the BioNtech rollout was suspended for about 10 days after the discovery of damaged packaging of vials which had been administered to more than 150,000 people. Health officials said there was no safety risk but the rollout was suspended as a precautionary measure, and two batches returned.

According to government figures, about 19% of Hongkongers have received their first dose, and 13.8% their second. About 56.5% of all doses administered are BioNtech.

There has also been growing criticism of the government for blocking the refugee population from receiving vaccines.

This week saw reports of hotels offering cash incentives to staff who took the vaccine, with bonuses of 70% of employees were vaccinated.

The chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, on Tuesday rejected suggestions the government should offer such incentives, but hoped the private sector would do more, saying it would also boost the economy.

On Sunday Hong Kong’s secretary for the civil service said a higher rate of vaccines was crucial in determining future travel arrangements between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Vaccine hesitancy has been an issue in several countries which have had relative success in controlling the spread of the virus, including AustraliaPacific and South east Asian nations, and Taiwan.