Hong Kong’s BioNTech vaccination programme will resume on Monday, 12 days after it was suspended due to defective packaging, after the supplier submitted an interim report about the cause of the damage to some vials.

A new batch of 300,000 doses will arrive in the city on Saturday, and people who missed out on their second dose will be given a new booking next week, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip announced. They will be notified from Friday onwards.

File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Nip said around 30,000 people scheduled for a second dose were affected by the suspension of the vaccination programme. They would be allocated a new time slot between next Monday and Saturday.

Around 153,000 people who missed their appointment for a first dose would also be allocated a new time slot. Both groups will receive notifications via text message.

If citizens cannot attend the new time slots, they can schedule a new time after the online booking system reopens at 9 am on Saturday. People who have already booked an appointment from next Monday do not need to reschedule.

(From left to right) Secretary for Health Sophia Chan, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip, Director of Health Constance Chan meeting the press on Thursday about resuming the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination programme. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The secretary urged citizens to register for the vaccination programme, as only around 461,000 residents, equivalent to around seven per cent of the population aged 16 or above, have received their first jab since the programme began in late-February.

“This progress is very far from our target to reach city-wide immunity,” said Nip. “I would like to urge citizens to proactively get vaccinated.”

The other vaccine being offered in the free government programme, the Chinese-made Sinovac, accounts for the majority of inoculations and has not been suspended.

The vaccination programme for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was halted after the supplier, Fosun Pharma, reported that some doses in batch 210102 had defective lids.

According to the interim report submitted by the supplier, the vaccines in questions have no quality problems. But Director of Health Constance Chan said the two batches would remain in store until the results from the final investigation are released.

File photo: Tim Reckmann, via Flickr.

BioNTech said in its report that some lids came loose under the very low temperature in which the vaccines are stored, potentially allowing air to get into the bottles. When the vaccines were defrosted, increasing air pressure in the bottle caused the cap to loosen.

The new batch of vaccines is manufactured in a different factory from the earlier two, and there is no evidence in any case of a safety risk arising from the earlier shipments.

“BioNTech said that the efficacy and safety of the vaccines were not affected, therefore those who received a jab need not worry,” said Chan.

Hong Kong reported 13 coronavirus infections on Thursday, two of them local cases with unknown sources. The remaining 11 were imported infections.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.