Hong Kong children as young as 12 will be offered Covid-19 BioNTech vaccinations from next Monday, the government announced, urging hesitant adults to follow suit before vaccination centres close in September.

Patrick Nip.
Patrick Nip. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Children aged 12-15 will be eligible, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip told the press on Thursday. The government has fixed the start of the expanded scheme for Monday, a public holiday, so parents can take their children to vaccination centres. The decision came after the government approved a recommendation from its advisory panels of experts last week to lower the age limit from 16.

Covid-19 Coronavirus vaccine
File photo: GovHK.

Children can receive jabs in their parents’ company at those vaccination centres which offer the Pfizer-developed BioNTech vaccine after booking an appointment online starting Friday.

These centres will also take bookings from schools and arrange transport for students, their parents, and teachers to the centres for group vaccinations starting June 21.

The government will also provide vaccination outreach programmes at schools starting on June 28, with details to be announced soon.

“The government attaches great importance to the Covid-19 vaccinations for adolescents and students, and also hopes more students’ parents and teachers will join this effort,” Nip said.

Parents are welcome to receive jabs alongside their children, he said, as the government pushes more people to get vaccinated after an initially slow response to the free scheme.

The expansion will open up the vaccination programme to 240,000 more people in the city of 7.5 million. A total of 6.82 million people will be eligible for the vaccine, the government estimates.

100 per cent protection

Citing data provided by Fosun, the company which offers the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said children would produce more coronavirus antibodies than adults – meaning 100 per cent protection against the onset of the disease.

children sport class education school student
Photo: GovHK.

Pharmaceutical regulators in the US, UK, Canada, Singapore and the European Union have also approved lowering the age limit for BioNTech vaccinations, Chan said.

The government may consider allowing schools to resume full-day in-person classes if their vaccination rate reaches 70 or 80 per cent, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said. The city’s schools have been open for half days since late May.

Chan urged parents to arrange for their children to get vaccinated as soon as they can so normal school life can safely resume.

The government may consider further lowering the age limit depending on data provided by vaccine manufacturers while it monitors and collects information on any side effects experienced by children, Chan said.

Closed in September

The government is urging residents to get their jabs before the end of August, as all 29 vaccination centres will close in September, Nip said. After then, the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine will still be available at private clinics but BioNTech will only be available at select locations.

Around 1.14 million people had been fully vaccinated in Hong Kong as of Thursday, or about 17 per cent of the eligible population. Hong Kong has recorded 11,873 Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 210 deaths.

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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.