Hong Kong is lagging behind western countries and other cities including Macau and Singapore in terms of vaccination rates as it fails to clear public doubts about a mainland vaccine.
Since the city-wide coronavirus vaccination program kicked off on February 26, 190,700 people have received the Covid vaccine, with about 82% opting for the Sinovac vaccine and about 18% the BioNTech, according to the government.
The vaccination rate, the number of doses per 100 people, was 2.54% in Hong Kong, compared with 4.5% in Macau and 10.7% in Singapore.
According to the Ministry of Health in Singapore, a total of 611,314 doses had been administered as of March 8. Among them, 218,694 people have completed the full vaccination regimen. The city-state has approved the BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for its 5.7 million population.
As of Sunday, 28,767 people had received the Covid jabs in Macau, which has a population of 640,000. The Asian gaming city, which uses the BioNTech and Sinopharm vaccines, has so far reported one serious adverse event and 61 minor events after the injections.
Globally, Israel is leading the world with a vaccination rate of 102.6, according to Statista.com. With a population of 97,600, Seychelles in East Africa recorded a vaccination rate of 91.8, following by 60.9 in the United Arab Emirates, 55.4 in Maldives and 38.6% in the United Kingdom. The United States and Brazil, both seriously hit by the pandemic, have vaccination rates of 32.3% and 6.1%, respectively. China, which has not reported many cases in the past year, was about 3.8%.
On Monday, the Hong Kong government said it would significantly expand the city-wide vaccination program, covering everyone aged 30 or above, amid a slow take-up rate in the city.
Domestic workers and students aged over 16 who study outside Hong Kong will also be given priority for the vaccines. They can make a booking online from 9am on Tuesday.
The government will also open 12 more vaccination centers, taking the total to 27. People can also book and take their jabs at more than 2,000 private clinics.
Currently, people aged 60 or above and workers in specified sectors can enjoy top priority for inoculation. However, six people who received a Sinovac jab have died over the past few week, raising concerns about the safety of the mainland vaccine. Many people who planned to get the jabs have canceled their bookings.
Patrick Nip, the Secretary for Civil Service and the official heading the government’s vaccination drive, said some people were adopting a wait-and-see approach while others were keen to get the jabs.
“We notice that there is still capacity to handle more, and there are people who do not belong to the priority groups but who wish to be vaccinated early, so the present expansion of the priority groups to include those aged 30 and above is to make more people who wish to be vaccinated get the vaccines and also to streamline the administrative arrangements,” he said.
Medical experts say the first two deaths were not vaccine-related. They are still studying the other cases.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the approved vaccines in Hong Kong were safe, and that no link had been established between the jabs and the reported deaths.
After social-distancing measures were relaxed last month, there had been coronavirus outbreaks in the city, involving a restaurant in the K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui and a gym called Ursus Fitness in Sai Ying Pun, Chan said.
If people did not take the initiative to get the jabs, the government would have no choice but tighten the epidemic rules again.
“The more people get vaccinated, the faster they get vaccinated, the better that they’re protected, not only as an individual but also in a community, as well as improving or helping with the control of our epidemic situation,” she said.
Meanwhile, David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who said the Sinovac was safe, received the BioNTech vaccine along with his colleagues. Last month, Hui refused to disclose which vaccine he would get as he did not want to politicize the matter.
Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), also said last month that he preferred to get a nasal spray vaccine co-developed by HKU. Yuen took the BioNTech jab a week earlier, explaining that he needed a vaccine with higher efficacy due to the nature of his work.
The Center for Health Protection said 30 Covid cases, including 14 imported ones and 16 local infections, were recorded on Sunday. Of the imported cases, 10 were foreign domestic helpers who arrived recently in Hong Kong.
Thirteen new cases were related to Ursus Fitness, taking the total number of cases in this cluster to 122. The cluster has sparked a mini-outbreak at the Harbour School’s Grove Campus in Ap Lei Chau.
Albert Au, a principal medical and health officer at the Center for Health Protection, said more cases would be uncovered for the gym cluster in the coming weeks.
“It is possible that there will be secondary or even tertiary spread in other places, such as the workplaces or among family members.” Au said. “We have to be mindful and need to closely monitor the situation to see if there are further transmissions arising from this cluster.”
On Monday, more than 10 people tested positive preliminarily. They included two employees of the United States Consulate General in Hong Kong. The 40-year-old man and 41-year-old woman, who live in Dynasty Court, were identified during an overnight “ambush” lockdown in Mid-Levels. They showed no symptoms and last went to work on March 12.