The percentage of people who have not shown up for their booked vaccination appointments at eight government-run community centres administering the Sinovac vaccine has more than tripled in the past four days.
Official figures show a steady rise in people not turning up for vaccination from 11 per cent last Saturday to 36 per cent on Tuesday. The waning interest follows growing concern about the safety of the Chinese-developed vaccine after three people died within several days of receiving the vaccination.
The most recent victim, a 71-year-old man without a history of chronic illness who died three days after receiving the Sinovac vaccine at a private clinic, was reported on Monday. An expert panel investigating adverse effects of Covid-19 immunisations has yet to rule out a direct link between the death and the vaccine.
Two other people who suffered from existing chronic illnesses have died within days of receiving the vaccine since the vaccination programme began in late February. The expert panel has said that it was of a “unanimous opinion” that there was “no direct causality” between the deaths and the vaccine.
The official in charge of vaccinations, civil service secretary Patrick Nip, told an RTHK programme on Tuesday that the vaccine is still safe for elderly patients and that the government will continue to monitor the situation.
“As the vaccination scheme continues, serious incidents and abnormalities will be reviewed and evaluated. We will see if the overall benefits outweigh the risks,” the secretary said.
Nip also said the important thing was to see if there was any direct link between the vaccination and deaths, taking into account the wider context in Hong Kong, where the biggest causes of death every year are pneumonia, heart disease and stroke.
He also urged those who fall into the 12 priority groups eligible for a vaccination to consult a doctor before being vaccinated if they were suffering from any chronic illness.
The Department of Health issued a statement on Tuesday calling for people who suffer from “uncontrolled severe chronic illnesses” to refrain from the vaccination.
The China-developed Sinovac vaccine is not administered to persons aged 60 and over in mainland China. It was approved for emergency use in Hong Kong after a decision by local authorities to waive a requirement for developers to publish final-stage trial results in peer-reviewed medical journals.
Third person in intensive care
The drop in interest in Sinovac shots comes as the Department of Health reported a third person falling critically ill within days of receiving the Sinovac jab on Tuesday.
The 51-year-old man was admitted to intensive care at Queen Mary Hospital on Monday after suffering from shortness of breath within five days of receiving the Sinovac vaccination. He suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and remains in a critical condition.
Two elderly patients had been sent into intensive care over the weekend within days of being vaccinated. Both suffered from an array of pre-existing health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
The expert panel ruled out a direct link between the two cases and the vaccine on Monday.
A total of around 113,500 people have received vaccines in Hong Kong so far, with around 110,500 receiving a Sinovac jab and 3,000 receiving a BioNtech one.
Hong Kong reported eight new infections on Wednesday, two of which were imported and three with untraceable sources.
The Centre for Health Protection warned of an emerging cluster at Ursus Fitness gym in Sai Ying Pun on Wednesday, calling for those who have been on the premises since last Monday to be tested for the virus as soon as possible.