Hong Kong will step up its outreach programme in an effort to boost low Covid-19 vaccination rates among the elderly before the winter influenza season. It has pledged to keep most vaccination centres open longer than previously planned.
The city is set to fall short of its goal of reaching a 70 per cent vaccination rate by the end of this month, as leader Carrie Lam rules out a “living with Covid” strategy, as adopted by other states.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip, who oversees the vaccine programme, said on Thursday that the scheme had hit a “bottleneck,” with only 27 per cent of people aged over 70 having received their first dose.
He said only 12,000 people received jabs on Wednesday, little more than half the number needed for the city to reach a 70 per cent vaccination rate by October, one month after the original target.
“In order to vaccinate more people, we have to be more proactive, more flexible and make [vaccinations] more convenient,” the secretary said.
Nip said district councillors would work with the Social Welfare Department to arrange vaccination days within communities that will allow residents to be jabbed without an appointment.
He said the government would promote vaccination and information outreach among elderly communities, including holding seminars for people whose family members live in residential homes.
Hong Kong has seen low infection figures for over two months. It reported only two cases on Thursday, both of which were imported.
Nip said people should take advantage of the situation to get vaccinated. “No one can predict when the situation will change… please make use of this window to get vaccinated.”
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan also urged the elderly to get jabbed before the possible arrival of a fifth wave of infections, and before the influenza season. “We cannot rely on younger people to become vaccinated to protect the elderly, the elderly themselves need to be vaccinated against the virus,” she said.
Community vaccination centres
To encourage more vaccinations, 21 of the 29 community centres will now stay open until the end of the year. The centres will administer first and second doses in October and November, and give only second doses in December.
The centres will have shortened operation hours from November onward, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday to Friday, and 8.a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. They will be closed on Wednesdays. Centres will also be closed daily from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. for cleaning.
Five vaccination centres, including at the Hong Kong Sanitorium, St Pauls’ Hospital and Tai Po Market, will close at the end of October.
Nip said booking rates at the centres have dropped to around 60 to 70 per cent capacity a day.
Around 3.6 million people in Hong Kong had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday evening, around 54.7 per cent of the eligible population – those aged 12 and over.
The city’s leader Carrie Lam, during a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, ruled out alternatives to the zero Covid strategy which has seen some of the world’s toughest quarantine measures – 21 days of mandatory hotel quarantine in many cases – despite strong criticism from the business sector.