Hong Kong health authorities have ejected a private clinic from the city’s coronavirus vaccination programme after it reportedly recommended the German-made Pfizer/BioNTech shot to patients over the one from China’s Sinovac.

The move illustrates the Hong Kong government’s sensitivity to any criticism of the Sinovac vaccine, which has a comparatively lower efficacy rate and was fast-tracked by regulators despite a lack of published data.

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

The city’s health department said Tuesday that the clinic would no longer administer Covid-19 jabs because a doctor violated an agreement with the inoculation programme.

Authorities said they had also reclaimed unused Sinovac doses from the clinic.

The announcement came after a photo of a notice at the clinic comparing the two vaccines’ efficacy rates went viral online over the weekend.

“Advice: don’t take Sinovac, take BioNTech,” the notice read, adding one of the clinic’s own doctors had chosen the latter.

Ta Kung Pao, a newspaper that answers to Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, then ran a report accusing the doctor of “smearing” the Sinovac vaccine.

Sinovac Covid-19 Coronavirus vaccine
Photo: Governo do Estado de São Paulo, via Flickr.

So far some 403,000 Hong Kongers — about five percent of the city’s population — have received their first doses.

More than 250,000 of them got the Sinovac jab, while the rest got Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Separately on Wednesday, the government suspended the Pfizer shot due to a packaging problem, but stressed it did not believe there was a safety risk.

Limited data

China’s coronavirus vaccine makers have been less forthcoming than their competitors in publishing peer-reviewed data from clinical trials — even as Beijing pushes those shots around the world as an alternative to Western-made shots.

The Sinovac shot was approved by Hong Kong after the company submitted data directly to regulators, not to a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Data on the jab from trials in other countries points to efficacy of between 50-80 percent, depending on the studies, compared with Pfizer/BioNTech’s 94-95 percent.

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

Hong Kong began its vaccination drive last month but the public take-up has been slow and ensnared by roiling distrust of China, fuelled by Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on the city’s democracy movement.

A recent poll said only 37 percent of adults planned to get vaccinated.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has previously lamented the tepid enthusiasm for vaccination and accused critics of “smearing” China’s vaccines.

However, some of the city’s own leading epidemiologists have openly stated that the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is measurably more effective.

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