Two more Hong Kong people have died and another nine have suffered temporary facial paralysis after receiving Covid-19 vaccines, an expert panel has reported.

The latest deaths mean 10 people have now died in the city after vaccination, nine of whom received the Chinese-made Sinovac jab and one the German BioNTech, while a total of 11 have experienced the facial condition known as Bell’s Palsy. Experts have not found any link to the inoculations.

Dr. Ivan Hung. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The government’s Expert Committee on Clinical Events Assessment Following Covid-19 Immunisation delivered its findings on Wednesday evening after meeting to assess reported cases of severe side-effects.

In the latest cases, Bell’s Palsy was reported in nine men aged between 39 and 86, eight of whom received the Sinovac vaccine while the other received the BioNTech vaccine. Two men aged 58 and 69 earlier reported experiencing the same condition after receiving Sinovac.

File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The condition is listed as a rare side-effect of the BioNTech vaccine. The committee’s convener Dr. Ivan Hung said statistics indicate that 110 people aged above 16 — that is 1.67 in every 100,000 individuals — experienced Bell’s Palsy during the same period of time between 2018 and 2020 in Hong Kong.

“If we find that the [post-vaccine] numbers are statistically higher than the baseline during a longer period, between three to six months, we will advise the vaccines expert committee, Food and Health Bureau and the relevant manufacturers to update their product description,” Hung said. “It requires a longer-term comparison.”

Police Commissioner Chris Tang. File Photo: GovHK.

Of the two latest fatalities, one was a 66-year-old man who was vaccinated three days before his death. The second case was a 80-year-old woman who died 17 days after vaccination. Both received the Sinovac vaccine but had a history of chronic disease including hypertension and diabetes.

The experts reviewed the mortality rate for individuals above 60 during the same period of time between 2017 and 2019 and found no unusual pattern with the latest deaths.

The free mass vaccination programme normally offers either Sinovac or BioNTech. But the BioNTech programme was temporarily suspended on Wednesday due to damaged packaging in one of the batches.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.