Hong Kong’s mass free vaccination scheme officially began on Friday as authorities announced that three centres originally due to offer a US-German vaccine would switch to China’s Sinovac in response to strong public demand for an early jab.
Online registration for slots in mid-to late March will begin next Monday.
The three centres in Tseung Kwan O, Kwai Tsing and Tuen Mun were originally scheduled to offer the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, whose arrival has been delayed by two days, but will now provide the Sinovac jab from March 6.
“We noticed that there is an overwhelming response and most people would like to be vaccinated early,” said Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip. The 70,000 quota for the first two weeks of the programme was fully booked on the first day of online registration.
All community vaccination centres will operate from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
The next round of online registration will begin at 9am next Monday for vaccinations from March 12-26. A quota of 200,000 places will be available at the eight community centres and 18 Hospital Authority general out-patient clinics.
Visiting a community vaccination centre at the Central Library on Friday morning, Nip and Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the programme’s initial rollout was smooth.
“As regards demand for vaccination… the number of community vaccination centres we have planned for and the private clinic network are sufficient for the planned capacity to have the population vaccinated,” Nip said.
Private clinics across the city will start administering the Sinovac vaccine from as early as next Tuesday and residents can contact them directly. Details of participating clinics will be released on the government’s website next week.
Chan said private health personnel will also administer the vaccines at the city’s District Health Centres from next week onwards.
Nip said the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was now expected to arrive on Saturday and further details of its rollout would be released after it arrives. It had been expected to arrive on Thursday but was delayed due to a complication in the export process.
“As we operate the centres, we will closely monitor the situation, assess the demand, and make necessary adjustments,” the secretary added.
Monitoring adverse side effects
Chan said the government and health care staff would “actively monitor” any adverse side effects. She said the government was collaborating with the University of Hong Kong to monitor and set up a notification system.
Recipients of the vaccines will be watched for half an hour immediately after receiving the jab in case of any immediate adverse reactions.
Fatigue or arm soreness are common side effects. But Chan, who received the jab on Monday with other officials, said there had been no reports of any adverse reactions so far.