It has been more than a year and two months since Covid first poked its spiky self into our already complicated lives, fellow Hongkongers. Relative to most of the world, we have gotten off lightly, but it’s still been a morass of virus waves, leading to restrictions and closures. Some of us haven’t seen our families in other countries since then, others have had to quarantine, and still others live in a state of constant paranoia and panic due to fears of being separated from their kids, pets, or because we simply don’t want to contract the dreaded lurgy. Most of all, we can never forget: people have lost their lives.
At least 5 million of us are a gilded population eligible for the vaccine here in Hong Kong. Talking to friends and others around me, it’s easy to see that there is a lot of waiting and seeing going on from the start. Only 529,400 residents have taken their first doses in Hong Kong as of Thursday.
The waiting and watching is not incomprehensible. The reasons I have heard are distrust in the vaccines (ranging from fear of side-effects to what’s in them), distrust in the logistics surrounding the vaccine delivery, and complacency, because taking the vaccine does not feel urgent. For example, “I can’t travel anyway, because there’s a three week quarantine on the way back,” or “We hardly have Covid here anyway, what’s the rush?”
And that was all before the terrible news of the packaging issues of the BioNTech vaccine hit us. As we are told, these issues led to an investigation and necessitated a pause in the administration of that vaccine. As someone who took a dose from the now notorious batch 210102, I was unhappy to learn the news. The last thing one wants while eyeing a way out of a pandemic is an obstacle, and information has been arriving in a trickle. Luckily, the issues have had no impact on safety and efficacy and administration of BioNTech resumed on Monday.
While I am very relieved to hear of the resumption and am looking forward to my second dose, I don’t doubt that some of those who were already in the ‘wait and watch’ camp might have bolstered their stances because of the issues, and the existing and ensuing fears. If you are still on the fence, here are my reasons for taking the vaccine, in hopes that they help you choose to take it too.
- Taking the vaccine means your risks of dying or getting seriously ill from Covid are drastically cut, even if you contract it. No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, but we are fortunate that we have vaccines with the efficacy they are showing so soon after the virus upended our lives. We should be aware that even mild cases of Covid can result in long Covid, a nasty slew of symptoms that can last for months after the infection recedes. In Hong Kong, a CUHK study shows long Covid symptoms in 80 percent of the patients they followed up with.
- Taking the vaccine is crucial to ending or trying to end the pandemic. It’s not just about mitigating our individual risks, but about stopping the community spread. Taking the vaccine means you are part of making things safer for all. Recent studies show that mRNA vaccines “are highly effective in preventing infections in real-world conditions.”
- Booking an appointment, showing up at efficiently run vaccine venues, and getting the shot from friendly and kind nurses has been easy in Hong Kong. Comparing my first dose experience here to what my family and friends in various other countries are experiencing, there is no question that the system here has been smooth. Yes, the pause on one of the vaccines has caused a significant step back, but there is no current reason to think that the basic booking and administration system won’t continue to operate efficiently going forward, now that it has resumed.
- We have a choice of two vaccines.
- Getting vaccinated is the way forward to the good parts of pre-Covid “normal” life. By this I mean, things like travel without extreme quarantine, playgrounds, gyms, schools, and beaches staying open consistently, seeing people in real life in larger groups, living without fear of contracting or spreading the disease or fear of quarantine, and local businesses being able to operate without fear of sudden closures.
- Understand that we are currently fortunate with vaccine availability and eligibility, despite the recent issues and local context. People are in dire situations around the world, living under great duress, still dying or getting very sick. In some countries, there is no sign of the vaccine on the horizon for many. In others, the registration process is frightful. Still others don’t offer a choice of vaccine.
Even if you or I may not ourselves be scientists or frontline witnesses to how the vaccines are tested, analysed, reviewed, manufactured, and distributed, there are strong reasons to take them in the face of a terrible disease. Many factors can impact one’s trust, but in balance, taking the vaccine is the best solution to start putting the pandemic in the rear view.
As for local incentives, I’d like to see clarity on quarantine exemptions for the vaccinated so we can travel carefully without facing 21 days in a hotel quarantine upon return, and so we can move around our city without fear of falling into a track and trace loop that leads to quarantine. However, the baseline incentives are already clear: we reduce our chances of dying or suffering from Covid and increase our chances of keeping people around us safe.
Please get vaccinated.
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