Hong Kong health authorities on Monday opened up their Covid-19 vaccination programme to those aged 30-59, domestic workers and students aged over 16 who are in education overseas, to counter a waning of interest in the city-wide drive.
The expanded priority groups will be able to receive a jab from Tuesday onwards, earlier than scheduled. The move will make the vaccines available to 5.5 million people, more than 80 per cent of the city’s population over the age of 16, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip announced.
Online booking for the new priority groups will be available on the government’s website from 9am Tuesday onwards. Those registering will only need to provide proof of age.
The free programme began by catering for the over-60s and workers in high-risk jobs such as in health, gym, and public transport sectors, using the China-made Sinovac and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine developed in Germany.
But the programme has faltered after six people died following vaccinations with Sinovac, the more widely used vaccine. Experts have said there was no link between the vaccine and the death in the first two cases, while the others are still being investigated.
Eight community centres offering Sinovac and 19 offering Pfizer/BioNtech jabs will be in operation from Tuesday onwards.
Nip urged everyone eligible to register for an injection as soon as possible. “If you hesitate, it will delay the resumption of normal life.” He also called on members of the public to “believe in science.”
He acknowledged that “enthusiasm has dampened” for the programme. “Now we have decided to expand the scope of priority groups to allow more people to be vaccinated to make better use of resources,” he said.
“We will monitor the daily situation and make timely adjustments.”
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan appealed to the public to get vaccinated despite the ongoing investigations into the deaths. “So far there is no data showing that certain conditions will be aggravated and [that] there are more incidents after immunisations.”
“The more people who have been inoculated, the better,” she added.
A total of about two million doses of Sinovac and BioNtech have arrived in the city so far, allowing up to one million Hongkongers to be vaccinated with two doses each. Authorities have ordered 7.5 million doses each of Sinovac, BioNTech and Astra/Zeneca, with the latter not scheduled to arrive until later in the year in the city of 7.5 million people.
Almost 200,000 people have received their first injections since the programme began three weeks ago. There are around 300,000 places still available until the end of March, with a daily quota of around 20,000 places.