Hong Kong will open up access to a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine to individuals who are immunocompromised starting next Thursday. Those who received the Sinovac vaccine but are exposed to a higher infection risk will also be eligible, meaning about 1.86 million will qualify for the booster.

Sophia Cha (left) and Patrick Nip (right). Photo: HK Gov.

Following advice from the government’s panel of Covid-19 experts, the two groups will have priority access to a third dose of Sinovac or BioNTech jabs, the Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced during a press briefing on Wednesday.

“Several overseas and local studies have shown that the immunity level in the body will drop and the protection offered by vaccines may reduce over time. The World Health Organisation has recommended taking a third dose,” she said.

The first group are immunocompromised individuals — such as cancer, organ transplant, or late-stage AIDS patients, who received their second Covid-19 jabs at least four weeks earlier.

The second group are individuals exposed to higher infection risks and who received two doses of Sinovac vaccine at least six months prior, including people over the age of 60, medics, cross-border truckers or workers at ports, and people with long-term illnesses.

BioNTech recommended

They may choose between the Sinovac or BioNTech vaccines for their third booster dose, although experts advised that the BioNTech vaccine would create a better immune response, Chan said.

Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr.

The Hong Kong government’s free vaccination programme offered a choice between the two. But numerous international tests have found the Chinese-made vaccine to be less effective than many of those developed in other countries, though it was approved by the World Health Organization in June.

Starting on Friday, the relevant groups may book their third jabs on the government’s coronavirus vaccination website, civil service chief Patrick Nip said. They will also be able to get their jabs after obtaining same-day tickets at community vaccination centres, or get vaccinated without an appointment at nine public hospitals with vaccination booths.

They will be required to present justification documents while at the vaccination administration sites, such as their identification cards to prove their age, or documents proving that they work in high-exposure professions, Nip said.

Coronavirus vaccination in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Those who received two Sinovac jabs over six months ago, but need to travel to high-risk areas, may receive discretionary jabs if they are able to present plane tickets, Nip said.

“The government procured 15 million doses of Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and as of yesterday, nine million doses have been administered,” Nip said, adding that only about 1.7 million doses of BioNTech vaccine remain in stock.

The government will roll out arrangements for the third jabs progressively, and will continue to “closely monitor” whether recipients of the BioNTech vaccine will be allowed to take a third jab later on, Chan said.

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Selina Cheng

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.