A panel of experts has recommended that children as young as five receive one-third of an adult’s dose of the BioNTech vaccine, as the city continues to grapple with stemming local transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

A student receiving Covid-19 vaccine.
Photo: Phil Roeder via Flickr.

The Advisory Panel on Covid-19 Vaccines announced in a statement on Wednesday evening that it would recommend children aged five to 11 receive a “fractional dose” of the German-made vaccine for “off-label use.”

The government has yet to receive an application from the vaccine’s maker Fosun for the use of the paediatric version of the BioNTech, a 10 microgram dose, for children within this age range. The panel of experts nevertheless submitted its recommendation to the secretary for food and health after reviewing efficacy and safety data on the vaccine’s application in children, the statement said.

wallace-lau-chak-sing vaccine expert
Wallace Lau. Photo: Hospital Authority.

Panel convenor Wallace Lau said the recommended 10 microgram dosage for the BioNTech vaccine has been approved in the US and the UK for use in children aged 5 to 11.

Using the vaccine “off label” means taking a fraction of the vaccine labelled for adults, and administering it in children, which is a common medical practice. “This is not a new method,” Lau said.

“The vaccine’s preparation is crucial,” he said during an interview on RTHK on Thursday morning. Medical practitioners can take 0.1 of 0.3 millilitres from an adult dose and administer it to children. “This is not difficult to do, but requires training,” Lau said, adding that the government should ensure that the vaccine is only administrated at specific vaccination centres with trained staff.

On Tuesday, the city’s leader Carrie Lam announced that the age limit for the Chinese-made Sinovac will be lowered from 12 to five.

According to a University of Hong Kong study last month, BioNTech fared slightly better in protecting against Omicron, with five out of 25 vaccine recipients producing enough antibodies to block the variant. But none of those who received Sinovac produced sufficient antibodies against Omicron.

Invisible transmission chains

Fears of continued invisible transmission linger as the government remained unable to identify the source of infection for a security guard working at Penny’s Bay quarantine centre. A total of 18 security guards considered close contacts were sent into quarantine.

The government restricted an area in North Point to conduct compulsory testing on residents.
The government restricted an area in North Point to conduct compulsory testing on residents on Tuesday. Photo: HK Gov.

Meanwhile, microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said he believed there had been vertical transmission of the virus in a North Point building, Commercial Radio reported. After a 48-year-old man living in Maple Gardens was confirmed infected last Sunday, two more residents – an 83-year old woman and her 32-year-old son – tested preliminary positive for the virus on Wednesday evening. Fourteen households were ordered to enter mandatory quarantine as a result.

A 20-year-old man also tested preliminary positive on Wednesday, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said during a routine press briefing. The man dined at Nabe Urawa, a hotpot restaurant in shopping mall Hysan Place on January 4, where he sat one row away from another patient linked to the scandal-hit birthday party for Witman Hung. The patient was identified after diners at the eatery were issued mandatory testing orders.

In total, the city has reported 13,002 infections and 213 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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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.