The BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: biontech.de

The Hong Kong government has been urged to donate its unused vaccines to countries in need, such as India, before they expire.

Regina Ip, an Executive Council member and a lawmaker, said in a Legislative Council meeting that Hong Kong should give away some doses which are nearing expiry to other countries as the city’s vaccination rate remains low.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the government would liaise with the World Health Organization to see whether there is a donation mechanism in place but Ip said Chan should use her common sense to make a decision.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan is seeking a mechanism to give away unused vaccines. Photo: HK government

Ip said also that the government should consider economic incentives to boost the vaccination rate, citing a lottery for those who have had a jab in the US state of Ohio, with US$1 million prizes.

On April 15, top United Nations financial and vaccine officials urged rich countries to donate excess vaccine doses to the COVAX a program which supplies vaccines to lower income countries. They said such a move would help end the pandemic and get the global economy back on track.

Early this year, Israel, which tops the world in terms of its vaccination rate, donated 5,000 Moderna doses and 200 Pfizer doses for Palestinian medical workers. In February, Israel was urged by the World Bank to consider donating the extra doses it had ordered that it would not be using. In November, Israel ordered 10 million AstraZeneca doses but then decided it would not use them due to safety concerns.

At present, about 56% of Israelis are fully vaccinated, compared with less than 1% of the population in the Palestinian territories.

Latest shipment

On Friday, the Hong Kong government said the latest shipment of about 740,000 doses of the BioNTech vaccine arrived in the city as arranged by Fosun Pharma. Including this batch, a total of 2.2 million doses of the BioNTech vaccine have arrived since late February. About one million jabs have been administered.

The WHO’s COVAX scheme aims to secure global access to Covid-19 vaccines. Photo: AFP / STR / NurPhoto

The government said it would put the vaccine in validated ultra-low temperature freezers to ensure its proper storage in accordance with the temperature specified by the maker. The vaccine can be stored for three to four months.

As of Thursday, 1.86 million doses have been administered in Hong Kong. Among them, 1.12 million people have received their first dose, with about 493,500 people receiving the Sinovac vaccine and about 629,900 people getting the BioNTech vaccine. About 733,200 people have received their second dose.

However, the number of people who are going to get vaccinated has been declining this month.

In the 24 hours ending 8pm on Thursday, about 25,700 people were inoculated and about 10,400 new vaccination bookings were made online. Patrick Nip, the Secretary for Civil Service and the official heading the government’s vaccination drive, had said that Hong Kong could give up to 50,000 jabs per day but the capacity was underused.

Unused quotas

“At present, there are still plenty of unutilised quotas every day in the 29 community vaccination centres and over 1,000 private clinics,” the government said on Friday, adding that all foreign domestic workers were encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect their own health and the health of their employers’ families and others.

The Labor Department called on employers to arrange for domestic workers to undergo testing on weekdays and make bookings in advance to prevent the helpers from gathering and queuing for testing on Saturdays and Sundays.

To boost the vaccination rate, the government said it would require all frontline civil servants to get tested biweekly from June unless they are fully vaccinated. It said these civil servants would face disciplinary action if they failed to get tested or vaccinated.

However, many people have been scared by reports of adverse events after some vaccinations.

A 31-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was fainted after receiving the BioNTech shot on Wednesday was taken to Princess Margaret Hospital for treatment. On Thursday, her condition turned from serious to critical. On Saturday, her condition remained serious.

The Department of Health said the helper received the second shot at the community vaccination center at Lai Chi Kok Park Sports Centre and had convulsions.

Travel bubble

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said he had been told by Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye-kung that there was a high chance the travel bubble scheme between Hong Kong and Singapore would not go ahead as scheduled because the city state was grappling with a surge in cases.

Yau said officials on both sides would review the situation early next week, and make a final decision as soon as possible so that people could adjust their travel plans.

The scheme was originally slated to be launched in November last year but postponed due to the fourth-wave epidemic in Hong Kong. Last month the two cities announced that the scheme would be relaunched on May 26.

On Thursday, Singapore authorities banned non-passengers from Changi Airport terminals and closed an adjacent mall as around 9,000 workers undergo testing after 46 cases were identified at the airport.

Read: Hong Kong unveils terms of vaccine compensation