HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong’s advisers have backed lowering the age of eligibility for China’s Sinovac vaccine to three years, down from 18, as the city works to bolster Covid-19 immunity levels and reopen its border with China.
The Sinovac vaccine had good safety when administered on younger children of different ethnicities, experts serving on panels for the Centre for Health Protection said in a statement late on Monday (Nov 15) after reviewing real-world and clinical trial data.
Currently, children aged 12 to 17 are only allowed to receive shots made by Germany’s BioNTech, the other vaccine dispensed in the city.
The Secretary for Food and Health will consider the recommendation and make a final decision “as soon as possible”, said a government spokesman.
The government will ask Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, the company that secured rights from BioNTech to develop and market the mRNA shot in Hong Kong, to provide information regarding extending the age limit to five, the spokesman said.
The expansion of the eligible population comes as Hong Kong’s immunisation campaign is hitting a wall.
Vaccine hesitancy is ripe, especially among the elderly population, many of whom refuse to even get one dose.
Since the effort began in February, about 60 per cent of residents have been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That compares with more than 80 per cent in Singapore, its rival financial hub in Asia.
It is critical for Hong Kong to boost its vaccination rate as it works on reconnecting with mainland China and later on with the world.
China remains committed to a Covid-19-zero approach, which requires healthcare workers to track down every infection and cut off all transmission within the country. To open borders, Hong Kong must convince the authorities that it will not make the task more difficult.
Hong Kong started administering booster shots to the elderly and other high-risk groups on Nov 11. It is making headway in negotiations to reopen the border with mainland China, with an official saying this could happen on a limited basis in January.
With the return of in-person classes, unvaccinated children are facing a greater risk of infection.
Last week, the government sent 120 children into a three-day quarantine after they were exposed to the family of a Cathay Pacific pilot who tested positive for Covid-19, causing an outcry and frustration among their parents.
The city’s vaccination programme has yet to be tested, with hardcore restrictions making it one of the few places yet to have a domestic Delta outbreak. Hong Kong has reported just three locally transmitted cases of the virus since early June.
Hong Kong’s quarantine measures remain some of the toughest in the world, and have fuelled concerns that the city could be left behind as other places reopen their borders and accept that the virus is going to be endemic.