Hong Kong authorities have warned they will consider prosecuting a man who received two Covid-19 jabs locally despite being fully vaccinated elsewhere, condemning his “extremely selfish and irresponsible” behaviour.
The move followed media reports of the 30-year-old receiving the BioNTech vaccine despite having taken two Moderna shots in Singapore. The man, who works in Hong Kong, reportedly wanted to obtain a local electronic vaccination record to visit bars.
In a statement on Monday evening, the government said his actions not only posed risks to his own health, but also implicated the medical staff who inoculated him and wasted the city’s vaccine resources.
“The relevant act may involve a misrepresentation and gaining of benefits through deception which constitutes a criminal offence,” a government spokesman said. “The government will conduct [an] investigation and consider taking appropriate legal actions. If necessary, we will prosecute the relevant person.”
Individuals could be liable for providing false information to health care workers at vaccination centres, he said, adding: “Members of the public have the responsibility to, at the time of vaccination in Hong Kong, provide truthful statements regarding their health and vaccination situation.”
The city, meanwhile, confirmed no new Covid-19 cases on Monday. The overall tally remained at 11,958 cases, with 212 related deaths. Hong Kong has gone without local infections for 42 days, and fewer than 10 new preliminary-positive cases were reported, all imported.
Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said taking four jabs offered few medical benefits, but exposed recipients to extra risks of side effects, such as fever, headache or pain in the jabbed arm.
Currently, electronic sign-ups for vaccination only require the applicant to provide personal particulars, acknowledge an understanding of the risks and process involved, and select the brand, time and location for the jabs.
Staff at inoculation centres or private clinics usually check the recipients’ identity and ask if they are getting their first or second shot. People who got one dose outside Hong Kong must give the details to health care workers to be considered for a second shot. Those who have recovered from Covid-19 only need one shot.
Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, chair of the Medical Association’s communicable diseases committee, said there was a “loophole” at community vaccination centres, as medical staff were not required to ask recipients whether they had been inoculated overseas. He suggested the government look into adding such a question to the vaccination consent form.
“At least if something happens, such as major side effects, it will be clear it was not our medical staff’s fault when the patient files for claims,” Tsang said. “Although such a move would still depend on the person’s declaration, if he or she conceals they got vaccinated elsewhere, he or she will have to bear the responsibility.”
In the long run, the government should consider including internationally accepted vaccines in its electronic record scheme for convenience, he said.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said there were no legal grounds in the statute books to criminalise false declarations at vaccination centres. A virus-specific ordinance on mandatory disclosure of information only applied to authorised officers and the data had to pertain to the control and prevention of a public health emergency, such as the travel history of an infected individual.
The Crimes Ordinance, meanwhile, only regulated false declarations made under oath or other similar statutory duties, Luk said.
Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu said there was no global system for verifying a person’s vaccination status.
Educating the public about the risks of getting extra jabs would be better, he said.
“People should not get four doses, as it might potentially affect one’s immune system, and there is still a lack of scientific evidence on the [matter]. Given the unknown risks, it is not worthwhile for anyone to do so, and people’s views should be rectified via promotion and education by the government,” he said.
The experts also said the government’s goal of ensuring 70 per cent of the population had received at least one dose of a vaccine by October was achievable, but noted it was important to get more elderly people inoculated as they were at higher risk.
As of Monday evening, about 38 per cent of the city’s 7.5 million residents had received at least one dose, and 27.2 per cent both shots.
Both Tsang and Leung said they believed officials could look into further easing social-distancing measures following a police operation in which nearly 230 people at a Wan Chai restaurant were slapped with HK$5,000 fines for violating existing rules at the weekend. It was one of the single largest such crackdowns yet.
Among the latest preliminary cases was a 27-year-old fully vaccinated man who returned from a two-week trip to the United States on Sunday. He tested positive on arrival and was found to be carrying the L452R mutation, which is linked to several variants, including the more infectious Delta one.
The Centre for Health Protection said the man, who took the BioNTech vaccine, had a high viral load, suggesting he was likely to have been infected in the US.
His residential building, Centre Point in Sheung Wan, was locked down for overnight testing from 7.30pm. Screening was expected to end at 7am on Tuesday. He worked at Pacific Plaza in Sai Wan and was last there on July 2.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.