COVID-19 Vaccines in Hong Kong: Options, Safety & Costs (UPDATED)
There is currently an explosion of information, comments and opinions on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media. We believe that on serious topics in general, and on public health matters in particular, it is essential that you rely on facts and credible, expert information. Our mission at AD MediLink is to bring you the best possible information and advice, so you can make the best choices for you and your family.
Which COVID-19 vaccine are being made available in Hong Kong? Are they safe? How much do they cost? Our AD MediLink team has done all the research, and brings you this practical guide with all the latest information.
Which COVID-19 vaccine is available in Hong Kong?
The Hong Kong government has chosen to procure 3 out of more than 10 COVID-19 vaccines:
1. The Sinovac Biotech (Hong Kong Limited) CoronaVac vaccine based on an inactivated virus.
In December 2020, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government had reached advance purchase agreements with all 3 manufacturers (i.e. Sinovac Biotech, BioNTech–Fosun Pharma and AstraZeneca–Oxford) that will supply all Hong Kong residents with a vaccine. The government said that these vaccines were chosen based on scientific evidence and that officials will continue sourcing safe and effective vaccines from other manufacturers.
The availability of each vaccine will depend on the vaccination location. It is expected that each Community Vaccination Centre location will only use 1 vaccine (view the list here).
Provider Vaccine Name Vaccine Type Made In Doses to Be Provided Doses Required Effectiveness Sinovac Biotech BioNTech-Fosun Pharma AstraZeneca-Oxford
Doses to Be Provided
Are these COVID-19 vaccines safe?
Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that it is the right call of the government to select Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine because it shows “promising first and second trial data”. He indicated that although the China-based biopharmaceutical company has not yet published the third stage data, it does not mean that the data will be bad.
As of 18 February 2021, the Sinovac Biotech vaccine has been authorised for emergency use in Hong Kong. The Sinovac Biotech vaccine is the first COVID-19 vaccine used in Hong Kong in accordance with the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme that started on 26 February 2021.
As for BioNTech-Fosun Pharma, except in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan where the German biotech company BioNTech has partnered with the Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma, BioNTech has partnered with the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer to provide COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
As part of the BioNTech-Fosun Pharma collaboration, BioNTech is responsible for the development and manufacture of its mRNA-based vaccine while Fosun Pharma focuses on the aspects of clinical trials, regulatory applications, sales and marketing.
Over the last 12 years, BioNTech has developed vast expertise in the mRNA vaccine field. Funded by the German government, the research and development of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine by the collective effects of BioNTech and Pfizer have achieved favourable results. The vaccine was found to be safe with 95% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 through a randomised trial with 43,548 participants. However, 2 healthcare workers in the UK experienced anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction) to the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. Following these events, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency issued precautionary advice that people “with a history of anaphylaxis to a vaccine, medicine or food” should not be given the vaccine.
Click here to read the research of the Tozinameran vaccine (also known as the Comirnaty vaccine) for phase 3 trial, published in a respected medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine and/or read the Comirnaty Fact Sheet.
In January 2021, Norway reported that it was investigating 23 deaths in elderly that had received the Pizer BioNTech vaccine. The medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA) said that all deaths were very frail patients that were already suffering from very serious disease. To put the data in perspective, more than 200,000 doses of the vaccine had already been administered, when these deaths were registered. Moreover, on average 400 deaths occur weekly amongst elderly in nursing homes in Norway. The Norwegian Health Authorities have not changed their policy regarding vaccinated elderly patients with underlying conditions.
On 24 March 2021, the Government temporarily suspended COVID-19 vaccinations of a BioNTech batch due to packaging defects, within an hour after the Macau government did. For safety concerns, all BioNTech vaccines would be sealed immediately after the manufacturer notified the HKSAR government of the issue in the morning. Investigations are underway on the current batches and new doses will be ordered as soon as possible.
Online bookings for the BioNTech-Fosun vaccines open on Wednesday March 3. Priority residents will be the first in the city to receive this vaccine, from March 10 onwards. About 63,000 jabs will be distributed to about 830 private clinics in Hong Kong.
AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine was found “to have an acceptable safety profile and to be efficacious against symptomatic COVID-19” through an interim analysis of ongoing clinical trials involving 11,636 participants. Note that there were 175 severe adverse events that occurred in 168 participants.
Amid concerns over possible cases of blood clots after vaccination, Health Secretary Sophia Chan announced on 9 April that the shipments of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines, which were expected to arrive later this year, will be delayed. The government ordered 7.5 million doses from AstraZeneca but the order will be suspended. In addition, the government are considering purchasing a new type of vaccine with better protection.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has not yet submitted an application for emergency use in Hong Kong.
* Important: As COVID-19 vaccines are newly developed, there is no available research yet about COVID-19 vaccines on specific populations (e.g. pregnant women, children, breastfeeding women). No vaccine is 100% safe and therefore it is crucial to disclose your health conditions to your doctor in order to decide whether to get vaccinated and minimise the risks brought by vaccination.
The Hong Kong COVID-19 Vaccination Programme
The COVID-19 Vaccination Programme started at the end of February 2021. Through this booking system, eligible individuals will be able to make an appointment for vaccination with the CoronaVac (by Sinovac Biotech) at a location of their preference.
The goal of this programme is to provide vaccines for a total of around 7.5 million Hong Kong residents within 2021. Members of the public will be given the choice on whether to get vaccinated. As the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong batch by batch, the government will prioritise vulnerable groups and high-risk groups (e.g. elderlies, healthcare workers) with a reference to the characteristics of the vaccines. More details of the vaccination programme will be announced in due course. From 16 March onwards, online booking will be available to citizens aged over 30, domestic helpers and students aged over 16 who are in education overseas, as well as personnel qualifying for the specified categories.
This programme means that you will get injected with COVID-19 vaccines via the public health sector.
As for the private sector, since BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines must be stored in temperatures of minus-70 degrees Celsius, Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan said that perhaps only the public sector may be able to arrange injections for its vaccines.
With regard to the storage temperature of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines and AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccines, Professor Chan said that arrangements can be made for private doctors to help give injections of those vaccines.
To book an appointment go to https://www.covidvaccine.gov.hk/en/ and click on the “Book Vaccination” in the top right corner. This will redirect you to the online booking system. You may enter the virtual waiting room before you can book your slot.
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When will COVID-19 vaccines be available in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong was initially set to receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines as early as January 2021, but this was delayed due to issues with securing the vaccines from the manufacturers.
The first batches of the CoronaVac (by Sinovac Biotech) arrived at the end of February 2021, swiftly following the vaccine’s authorisation for emergency use in Hong Kong that was granted on 18 February 2021.
The first batch of Tozinameran (by BioNTech-Fosun Pharma) arrived at the end of February 2021 and will be used for the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.
The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (by AstraZeneca-Oxford) is expected to arrive in Hong Kong in the second half of 2021 at the earliest.
Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Hong Kong?
As of 26 February 2021, eligible individuals can receive the Sinovac vaccine at any of the 5 Community Vaccination Centres (CVCs) or at any of the 18 general out-patient clinics of the HA (after making an appointment via the online booking system).
Once Hong Kong receives more vaccines, the distribution of the vaccine will eventually be through 4 channels:
– A total of 29 Community Vaccination Centres (CVCs) in the 18 districts across the territory
– Over 1,500 private clinics participating in the programme
– 18 general out-patient clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA)
– Residential care homes for the elderly and for persons with disabilities
Who will be vaccinated first in Hong Kong?
Like many other countries, Hong Kong will receive the vaccine in batches. Therefore, the government has set up a vaccination strategy that prioritises certain groups of the population to receive the vaccine first.
The priority groups is as follows:
First priority: Residents and staff of residential care homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities as well as other institutional facilities;
Second priority: Workers in health-care settings, workers in other essential services who are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, and persons aged 60 years or above; and
Third priority: Persons with chronic medical problems aged between 16 and 59 years.
New priority groups applicable from 16 March onwards:
– Persons aged 30-59
– Domestic helpers
– Students aged over 16 who are in education overseas
These priority groups have been established based on the recommendations of expert advisory panels, published data on the COVID-19 vaccines that have been procured by the government, local data, and overseas recommendations and practices.
When attending your vaccination appointment, you should bring along your staff card, warrant card, identity proof issued by Government departments and their service contractors, licence and/or employer’s letter to prove you belong to the priority group.
How much does a COVID-19 vaccine cost?
If you are a Hong Kong resident with a valid HKID, you can join the large-scale COVID-19 vaccination programme and it will be free of charge.
For now, there is no information on whether the Hong Kong government will provide vaccines to people who are not Hong Kong residents, nor to hospitals for purchase by the general public.
Note: According to WHO, research is still ongoing regarding how strong a COVID-19 vaccine’s protection is and how long it lasts. Researchers believe that booster shots of the existing COVID-19 vaccines will be needed so as to stay protected. University of Hong Kong infectious disease expert Pak Leung Ho said that people have to be vaccinated with the same type of COVID-19 vaccine twice for the development of immunity, but getting injected every year may not be needed.
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This article was independently written and is not sponsored. It is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.