Is the Hong Kong government putting lives at risk with its mainland-focused vaccination programme? The simple answer is that we don’t know but the fact that we don’t know explains why this vital means of combating the spread of the virus is in jeopardy.

What we do know is that the government has used the vaccination programme as another opportunity for Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), to demonstrate loyalty to the rulers in Beijing.

Carrie Lam Coronavirus Covid-19 vaccine
Chief Executive Carrie Lam getting vaccinated on February 22, 2021. File Photo: GovHK.

She decreed that not only would a Chinese-made vaccine have to be administered ahead of vaccines from other countries, but the majority of Hongkongers would have to rely on the Sinovac brand for inoculations.

Sinovac, with an efficacy rate of between some 50 to 60 per cent, has the lowest rate of effectiveness among vaccines circulating around the world. Moreover, despite repeated promises that it would publish third phase trials, at the time of writing it has still not managed to achieve this internationally recognised benchmark for assessing efficacy. Nonetheless the government’s expert team has given Sinovac the go-ahead for use in Hong Kong.

Carrie Lam observes vaccine administration at a vaccination community centre
Photo: File GovHK

On the mainland, where Sinovac is in wider use, the authorities, for safety reasons, are not supplying this vaccine to people aged over 60. In Hong Kong priority for distribution has been given to the elderly cohort.

What has followed has been little short of a disaster as some of those inoculated with Sinovac suffered immediate after-effects and were rushed off to hospital. And worse, people have died after taking the vaccine.

Cause and effect have yet to be verified so it is too soon to be sure how the fatalities occurred. It should also be noted that reactions to vaccination are not unusual. Indeed, vaccines are designed to trigger a reaction and people will understand the implications — but only if the process is conducted in full transparency.

Covid-19 vaccines Patrick Nip
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip. File Photo: GovHK.

This is notably missing in Hong Kong. Instead there has been a rush to judgment by the same expert panel that authorised the use of Sinovac (despite lack of endorsement from the World Health Organisation). They have already pronounced that the fatalities have nothing to do with the vaccine. However there is no information in the public domain as to whether this conclusion is based on autopsy reports or assumptions made on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

No vaccination programme can succeed without transparency and certainty. Transparency has not been an issue in Hong Kong vaccination programmes…until now.

File photo: Pexels.

Little wonder therefore that citizens have been cancelling their vaccination appointments in droves and that widespread resistance to taking the vaccine is evident in the community. This is terrible news for Hong Kong which, like everywhere else in the world, needs to achieve a vaccination rate of some 70 per cent of all citizens before herd immunity kicks in. As matters stand the SAR has managed to inoculate less than 2 per cent of the population.

Moreover not only is there a possible risk in vaccination, unlike other governments the SAR administration appears to have given no thought to broadcasting the benefits — beyond the obvious one of avoiding catching Covid. Will those who have been vaccinated qualify to receive some kind of travel passport to avoid having to be quarantined? Then there’s the question of whether overseas countries will consider a Sinovac jab to be sufficient given its low efficacy. Moreover will the government still be issuing compulsory quarantine orders to vaccinated people who have had contact with people infected by Covid?

yau ma tei man ying building lockdown covid-19
Photo: Michael Ho Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

These are practical questions requiring an answer but the government is far too busy devising a host of other plans to curb liberty to have got round to this.

The CENO keeps droning on about the need to avoid politicising the vaccination programme. As is her way, she keeps complaining about the ignorance of Hong Kong people who, she says, lack information. It is hard to know whether she ever listens to her own words but now would be a good time to do so. Indeed, now might be a vital time to do so.

HKFP is an impartial platform & does not necessarily share the views of opinion writers or advertisers. HKFP presents a diversity of views & regularly invites figures across the political spectrum to write for us. Press freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law, security law, Bill of Rights and Chinese constitution. Opinion pieces aim to point out errors or defects in the government, law or policies, or aim to suggest ideas or alterations via legal means without an intention of hatred, discontent or hostility against the authorities or other communities.

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Steve Vines

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship