The Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by BioNTech (left) and Sinovac (right) Photo: biontech.de/Xinhua

Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by SinoVac and BioNTech are expected to arrive in Hong Kong on Friday and next week, respectively, creating hope that the vaccinations can kick off in late February.

On Tuesday evening, the government’s advisory panel on its Covid-19 vaccination program recommended the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine in Hong Kong. Sinovac said Wednesday that the first batch of one million doses of its vaccines would arrive in Hong Kong on Friday.

The Science Committee under the Center for Health Protection will hold a meeting on February 25 to decide the priority of recipients in different age groups and sectors. That means that people can be vaccinated with the Sinovac dose from as early as February 26.

Media reports said the BioNTech vaccine would arrive in Hong Kong next week and be ready for use in March.

According to phase three clinical data, the overall efficacy rate of the Sinovac vaccine for people aged between 18 and 60 is 50.66%, which is higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) minimum criteria of 50%. After injecting the second vaccine 28 days later, the efficacy rate is 62.3%.

Wallace Lau, the convenor of the advisory panel on vaccinations, said the panel unanimously agreed that the benefits of the Sinovac vaccine outweigh the possible risks.

“This is about an emergency use of a vaccine that will hopefully help to protect the people of Hong Kong from Covid. We have received the data from Sinovac. The data that we have looked at appeared to show that this vaccine is efficacious,” he said, adding that he and the panel were not pressured by the government into approving the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine.

Lau said about 11.89 million people in the mainland, including many people aged above 60, had been vaccinated with the Sinovac shot while there had not been a lot of reports that the recipients suffered from side effects.

Side effects

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said about 60.9% of the recipients of the Sinovac vaccine felt pain in the injection area, while 50% of recipients developed headaches. He said about 15% had stomach aches, while 19% had muscle soreness. He added that all these side-effects were temporary.

Hui said only two of 12 million people who had the Sinovac jabs suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, or acute flaccid paralysis, while 44 people developed facial paralysis. He said the Sinovac vaccine was in general safe to use.

However, media reports said the efficacy rate of the Sinovac vaccine for people above 60 was only about 50%. Meanwhile, the BioNTech vaccine has an overall efficacy rate of more than 90%.

William Chui, the President of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong and a member of the advisory panel on vaccinations, said although the Sinovac vaccine had a lower efficacy rate than the BioNTech one for people above 60, it had less side effects and was safe for elderly people to use.

Chui added that he would not decide which vaccine to use for the elderly as people should choose for themselves.

Due to the relatively low efficacy rate of the Sinovac vaccine, Hong Kong might not be able to achieve herd immunity even when 70% of its people were inoculated, Chui said.

“Maybe we need 80% of the people to be vaccinated, or even more for Hong Kong to reach herd immunity. When the vaccine efficacy rate is relatively low, it’s all the more important for more people to get vaccinated,” he said.

A technician demonstrates a testing process for the Covid-19 coronavirus during a media tour in the North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Center in Hong Kong on February 2, 2021, which is due to open later this month. Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace

Social distancing rules

From Thursday, restaurants will able to provide dine-in services until 10pm, while a maximum of four people, instead of two people, will be able to sit together at one table in a restaurant.

Some businesses, including cinemas, gyms and beauty parlors, will be allowed to reopen on condition that staff get tested every fortnight. However, party rooms, swimming pools and bars will continue to be shut. Public gatherings with more than two people will not be allowed in Hong Kong.

Restaurants and other businesses will be required to use the government’s Covid tracing app or record their customers’ personal information.

The government would keep a close eye on whether there’s a resurgence of Covid-19 cases after the Lunar New Year holiday before deciding when social distancing rules could be further relaxed, said Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health.

Between Sunday and Monday, the number of new coronavirus cases in Hong Kong stayed in the single digits.

The Center for Health Protection said a total of 16 cases, including three imported ones and 12 local infections, were recorded on Tuesday. Of the local patients, 10 were untraceable.

Among them, a 34-year-old man and a 36-year-old man had met a lot of friends and relatives during the Chinese New Year holidays last weekend. More than 70 close-contacts will be sent to quarantine centers.

A 72-year-old man, who lived in Sau Tai House at Fu Tai Estate in Tuen Mun, developed symptoms on January 15, but only took Chinese medicine. During the past one month, he went to Chinese restaurants in Tuen Mun almost every day until he was admitted to hospital on Monday. He was then identified as a Covid patient.

About 10 people tested positive preliminarily on Wednesday.

Read: Macau starts vaccinations as Hong Kong struggles