HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s sudden suspension of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is one other blow to a vaccination programme already struggling towards a wall of public mistrust.
Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, distributed by Chinese pharmaceutical agency Fosun Pharma, after faulty packaging comparable to free vial lids and cracks on bottles had been present in one among two batches of the vaccine.
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For now, Hong Kong residents can solely get the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, which is reported to have an efficacy charge of 62 per cent, in contrast with Pfizer-BioNTech’s 97 per cent.
Wariness in the direction of the Sinovac shot has grown after seven individuals who had been vaccinated with it died, although authorities say the deaths weren’t linked to the vaccine.
When the federal government launched the vaccination drive in February, 66-year-old Chan Yuet Lin was keen to get inoculated.
A mainland Chinese immigrant within the metropolis, she hoped vaccination would assist her ultimately go to her household within the Chinese mainland, whom she had not seen because the pandemic started, with out enduring onerous quarantines.
But after seeing stories on tv that a number of folks with continual sicknesses had died days after having the Sinovac vaccine, Chan determined towards getting inoculated.
“I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Right now with my health condition I don’t think I can get the shot, I will wait and see,” she mentioned, including that she deliberate to search her physician’s recommendation at her subsequent appointment.
Since vaccinations started on Feb 26, about 5.7 per cent of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents have gotten inoculated – a far cry from a aim of vaccinating 70 per cent.
The authorities has expanded the vary of people that can get the pictures, permitting these 30 and above after initially prioritising these 60 and older, and staff from important industries. It is contemplating giving the pictures to anybody older than 16.
Slow progress on vaccinations might gradual the town’s financial restoration. Hong Kong continues to be grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks and stringent social distancing measures which can be particularly onerous on bars, eating places and the tourism trade.
The jobless charge climbed to 7.2 per cent in February, the very best stage since 2004.
Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam and well being officers are urging folks to get vaccinated. They insist the pictures, together with the Sinovac vaccine, are protected.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, depends closely on tourism however has been closed to overseas guests since March final yr. Lam has mentioned social distancing precautions and border controls can solely be relaxed after most individuals have gotten the pictures.
“If we can’t control the epidemic, there’s nothing we can do about the economy,” she informed lawmakers final week.
Hesitancy in the direction of the vaccines partly displays rising distrust of the federal government, as Beijing has asserted rising affect following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
Authorities have arrested and jailed dozens of activists below a tricky new nationwide safety regulation.
Some residents are fearful by the seven deaths that occurred after Sinovac pictures.
“According to the government, none of the deaths are related to the vaccine. Most of the patients had cardiovascular conditions, so there must be some association, but the government seems to be trying to dissociate it,” mentioned Belinda Lin, a Hong Kong resident in her 30s.
“It’s an issue of responsibility, the willingness to take responsibility – I haven’t seen this yet,” mentioned Lin, who doesn’t plan to get the vaccine as she says there’s a lack of research exhibiting long-term results.
“From what we’ve seen in the news so far it seems like people have more side effects from the (Sinovac) vaccine that’s less effective,” mentioned Agnes Wong, a gross sales govt in Hong Kong who additionally had no rapid plans to get vaccinated.
Unease over the vaccines, which had been developed in below a yr utilizing various ranges of medical trials, should not confined to Hong Kong.
In Europe, stories of issues with blood clotting following the AstraZeneca shot raised considerations. So have questions over a few of AstraZeneca’s medical information.
The quantity of people that have booked however failed to present up for his or her Sinovac vaccine appointments at present stands at round 20 per cent, up from about 11 per cent every week into the programme.
That compares with a 5 per cent no-show charge for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot earlier than these had been halted.
Martin Wong, a professor on the Chinese University of Hong Kong, co-authored a survey revealed in January that confirmed solely 37 per cent of Hong Kong residents had been keen to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
He says the know-how used, a producer’s observe document and stories of uncomfortable side effects can all have an effect on willingness to get the pictures.
The authorities has suggested folks with continual sicknesses to ask their medical doctors earlier than getting the COVID-19 vaccines. That will be troublesome for a lot of underprivileged Hong Kong seniors, mentioned Ivan Lin from the rights advocacy group Society of Community Organisation.
“The public health system should be more proactive in providing advice,” mentioned Lin. “For many of these elderly, their long-term illnesses are taken care of by public hospitals where appointments take place every three months, so they are not able to get (timely) medical advice.”
Policies that might reward folks for getting vaccinated are important, says Wong.
“New incentives may be required such as exemptions from certain travel bans or issuance of a certificate of vaccination that can be used for different purposes,” he mentioned.
Lam, the town’s chief, has mentioned the federal government would possibly take into account such measures, comparable to stress-free sure social distancing restrictions. Hong Kong can also be discussing with Chinese authorities easing restrictions for travellers who’re vaccinated.
That would possibly work for some.
Bilal Hussain, a doctoral pupil on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, signed up to obtain his first shot of the Sinovac vaccine after studying that China had eased its coverage to enable overseas staff and their households to apply for visas into the nation.
Hussain’s spouse and five-year-old son are in China. He has not seen them since January final yr.
“I’m hoping that maybe in the near future, China will open up their borders for students who have been vaccinated,” he mentioned.