On Friday, Hong Kong launched its free mass vaccination programme, more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic began in the city. HKFP presents some basic questions and answers about the vaccines and the logistics of the programme.
What types of vaccine are available?
The government has bought 7.5 million doses from each of three manufacturers: Sinovac Biotech, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca. All require two doses.
The government approved the emergency use of Chinese-made Sinovac on February 18, with the first million doses of vaccines arriving in Hong Kong a day later. It became available to the public from Friday.
The US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Comirnaty has been ordered through Fosun Pharma, a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company. It was approved for emergency use in January and the first million doses are expected to arrive in Hong Kong “as soon as possible” following delays.
The AstraZeneca vaccine – developed jointly with Oxford University – is expected to arrive in the second half of 2021.
Are the vaccines efficacious and safe?
According to documents submitted by the manufacturer, Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 50.66 per cent after one dose. If the second dose is taken after a 28-day break, the efficacy rate increases to 62.3 per cent.
However, the government said there is limited information on how well the vaccine works on those aged 60 or above because of the small sample size during tests.
Additionally, the Hong Kong government approved the use of Sinovac before the World Health Organisation (WHO) did. Officials said that they would reconsider their approval of the use of Sinovac should the WHO recommend otherwise.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shows an efficacy rate of 95 per cent and the WHO approved it for emergency use last December for people aged 16 or older.
People with medical conditions should consult their doctors before vaccination. There is not sufficient data on whether Sinovac is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, while BioNTech’s vaccine is not routinely recommended in these circumstances.
How many doses of vaccine will I need? Is it free?
Both Sinovac and BioNTech’s vaccines, as well as AstraZeneca, require two doses. Vaccinations are free of charge.
For Sinovac, the second dose of the vaccine should be given 28 days after the first dose, and for the BioNTech vaccine, there should at least be a 21-day interval.
After the first dose people will be given a physical copy of their vaccination records. An electronic version will also be available for download via the “iAM Smart” or the “eHealth” mobile applications.
Who will go first?
There are currently five groups of people being prioritised for vaccination:
- People aged 60 or above, and a maximum of two carers for people aged 70 or above
- Healthcare workers and people in “anti-epidemic related work”
- Residents and staffers of care homes for the elderly or people with disabilities
- Workers in critical public services
- Workers engaged in cross-border work such as truck drivers
People aged 16 to 59 with long-term illnesses will be next, followed by the rest of the population.
How and where can I get vaccinated?
There are four different avenues for vaccination but each will only provide one type of vaccine. People can choose according to the type of vaccine they want, when-and-if different options are available.
Community Vaccination Centres (CVCs): there will be 29 CVCs open to the public from Friday onwards. Five centres will provide Sinovac, while the remaining 24 will provide the BioNTech vaccine.
Residents must register using a 24-hour online system, and registration opened on Tuesday. CVCs will open from 8am to 8pm every day. People must bring their identity card, documents proving they are in one of the priority groups, and the letter or message confirming their appointments.
People can also get Sinovac in one of the 18 clinics operated by the Hospital Authority from Friday. Registration is required.
From March onwards, over 1,500 private clinics will also provide Sinovac, with more details to be expected this week.
The government will also arrange for medical workers to visit care homes and elderly homes to vaccinate residents on site.
What if I experience side effects?
There are several common side effects such as headaches, tiredness, pain, swelling and redness at the injection site.
In rare cases, people (one in 1,000 vaccinated) may experience temporary one-sided facial drooping after taking the BioNTech vaccine, while 0.01 to 0.1 per cent of people may experience side effects such as muscle spams, abdominal distension and hot flashes after being vaccinated with Sinovac.
The Department of Health has established a reporting mechanism for people experiencing adverse effects after vaccination. Citizens can alert healthcare professionals should they experience serious side effects.
The government has sought HK$1 billion from the Legislative Council (LegCo) for an indemnity fund. According to LegCo documents, victims of serious side effects or relatives of those who die because of the vaccine may be eligible for compensation of up to HK$3 million.
Can I travel freely after being vaccinated? Do vaccinated arrivals still need to quarantine?
Not quite yet. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it expects a digital “Covid Travel Pass” to be ready within weeks, which may allow vaccinated persons to travel more freely.
Hong Kong has not announced any new rules for vaccinated persons arriving in Hong Kong – they will still have to quarantine at a hotel for three weeks.