Plans to offer Covid-19 vaccination to Hong Kong students have been given a cautious welcome by schools, parents and teachers’ groups – as long as implementation details are thought through and students are given the freedom to choose.

Student school
Photo: GovHK.

The government is mulling whether to arrange for students to be vaccinated at school in an effort to fully resume in-person teaching, as children as young as 12 will soon be given access to the BioNTech vaccine, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said on Monday.

The discussion came as the city’s health authorities investigate how an unvaccinated 17-year-old girl caught the mutant strain of the virus, breaking Hong Kong’s 42-day streak of zero untraceable Covid-19 infections.

Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union president Fung wai-wah said the proposal for outreach can be arranged in the same way as other routine vaccinations that students now receive at school.

“The arrangement needs to be appropriate in that students will not be asked to get vaccinated against their will and that they are made fully aware of any side effects of the vaccine,” Fung told HKFP.

HK Aided Primary School Heads Association's Honorary Chairman Cheung Yung-pong spoke to RTHK
HK Aided Primary School Heads Association’s Honorary Chairman Cheung Yung-pong spoke to RTHK on Tuesday.

HK Aided Primary School Heads Association’s Honorary Chairman Cheung Yung-pong said during an RTHK programme on Tuesday that Education Bureau officials met with heads of primary, secondary and special education schools on Monday to discuss plans for vaccination outreach.

Minimum required

“The plan needs to make economic sense, as it would take a lot of manpower to ensure the vaccines’ storage at a certain temperature and its dilution,” Cheung told RTHK on Tuesday.

The representatives also said take-up numbers should be taken into account when deciding if offering the vaccines was worth a large deployment of manpower.

“If there are just 20 students, it may end up requiring more manpower than those who’d get vaccinated,” he said.

While authorities have yet to announce the details of the plan, local media reported that the government is considering offering jabs on school premises if they could gather a minimum of 300 students to receive them.

There were also suggestions to include parents in the school outreach schemes in order to boost the number of vaccinations, and to arrange for the vaccinations before summer holidays begin, Cheung said.

covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
Photo: Patrick Nip, via Facebook.

However Committee on Home-School Co-operation parent representative Chui Yat-hung said offering vaccines at school could result in resistance from students.

“Students may feel they are forced to receive the vaccine if the are asked to do so at school,” Chui said. “Students these days are rebellious. The more you ask them, the more they may become resistant and discontent.”

Meanwhile the government should better explain to parents medical findings regarding the protection the Covid-19 vaccines could offer and possible side effects order to assuage their worries about potential risks, he said.

“It may be an incentive [for students to get vaccinated] for school trips abroad in the future… but students may also become more reluctant to get vaccinated if it is turned into a condition for in-person schooling,” Chui said.

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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.