The government will roll out a city-wide Covid-19 vaccination programme next year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday. The scheme will make vaccines available to every Hong Kong citizen on a free and voluntary basis.
The city’s leader also announced that authorities have procured 7.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, bringing the total inoculations procured for Hongkongers to 22.5 million.
The government procured 7.5 million doses of both SinoVac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines earlier this month. Lam said the government is looking to procure additional doses from a fourth manufacturer to ensure sufficient supply. Each vaccine requires two doses to be effective.
The three different vaccinations will be rolled out according to when they are received. Lam said members of the public are free to choose which vaccine to receive by choosing the time and date of their vaccination, since – during certain periods of time – there will be more than one type of vaccine available.
If members of the public did not want to receive a particular vaccine, “they can choose to go to a different place where a different vaccine is available,” the chief executive said.
She added that the authorities will keep the public informed as to the type of vaccines they will receive at each step of the programme.
A task force chaired by Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip will oversee the roll-out. Other members of the task force include Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan, Chairman of the Elderly Commission Dr Lam Ching-choi and respiratory medicine expert Dr David Hui.
Nip, who oversaw the government’s Universal Community Testing Programme in September, said the programme will be launched “in a safe and orderly manner.”
He added that the scheme will be “transparent and open,” meaning citizens will be fully informed of the type of vaccination they are receiving, and of the associated risks. The secretary said he hoped the programme will “open a new chapter in our fight against the virus.”
Members of the public must provide informed consent before receiving their injections while priority will be given to “high risk” individuals including the elderly and medical personnel.
Lam sought to reassure the public that the vaccinations will be safe: “I must say that the vaccines to be used have gone through relevant clinical trials. You don’t have to worry. The merit of receiving the vaccine far outweighs the damage that would be involved without a vaccination.”
The full test results of China’s SinoVac vaccine have yet to be published.
The announcement followed a special Executive Council (Exco) meeting earlier on Wednesday during which the council made amendments to the city’s laws to grant the Secretary for Food and Health the power to approve use of Covid-19 vaccines for specified use. The regulation will remain in effect for 12 months.
ExCo also endorsed the setting up of an indemnity fund in order to compensate members of the public in “the rare cases” where they may suffer from severe adverse reactions to the vaccinations.
Arrivals from the UK will be required to serve an extended 21-day quarantine period from Thursday, the government also announced Wednesday. The stricter measures come following UK reports of a new, highly infectious mutation of the coronavirus.
The government banned all commercial flights from the UK on Tuesday until January 10.
ExCo also made amendments to local laws allowing for quarantine to be extended to “no more than 28 days,” laying the legal framework for possible further extensions to the compulsory quarantine period.
The new measures come around one month into the city’s fourth wave of infections.
Hong Kong reported 63 new infections and one death on Wednesday. Of the new cases, 53 were locally-transmitted and 13 had untraceable sources. Two of the 10 imported cases were from the UK. The city’s total number of infections stands at 8,354, with 133 deaths.