Research by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) into the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for people suffering from at least two chronic health conditions has found that there is no evidence of them being at greater risk of “adverse events” after vaccination.

On Monday, the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy and the Department of Medicine at HKU’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine released the results of their study on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines among patients with chronic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and hypertension.

elderly senior old people covid 19 vaccine vaccination
Photo: HK Gov.

The research team found that it was “safe” for all of these patients to receive the Covid-19 jabs available in Hong Kong.

The study was based on data collected from the Hospital Authority’s electronic medical records and the vaccination records from the Department of Health.

Researchers went through the information of over 880,000 individuals with two or more chronic conditions and found that “adverse events of special interest” – including heart failure, coronary heart disease and Bell’s Palsy – had occurred in 0.2 per cent of those who received BioNTech vaccines, 0.3 per cent of those who had the Sinovac jab, and 0.4 per cent of those who were unvaccinated, within the 28-day observation period.

HKU University of Hong Kong
The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Ian Wong, the head of the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, told reporters during Monday’s online briefing that there was no statistical difference in the risk of developing “adverse events of special interest” between unvaccinated patients with at least two underlying chronic conditions and those who had received Covid-19 vaccines.

Wong also said the research results could not show that the risk of getting Sinovac jabs was higher than that of BioNTech.

As listed in the study’s supplementary tables, the study took 20 chronic health issues into account, ranging from psychological illnesses such as depression to physical diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer. The list also included the 30 adverse events of special interest – according to the World Health Organization – examined by researchers.

Covid expert committee panel  Ivan Hung.
Dr. Ivan Hung. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Assistant Dean of HKU’s medical faculty Ivan Hung, who also spoke at the same online meeting, said the two types of vaccines offered to Hong Kong citizens were “basically very safe,” adding that “there is no cause for concern if there is compulsory vaccination for seniors.”

Speaking on RTHK on Tuesday morning, Hung urged the government to send out-reach teams or private doctors to help give jabs to elderly people who lived on their own or who had difficulties moving about.

He said the “utmost priority” was vaccinating people aged 70 and over within the next two or three weeks, especially those living in elderly nursing homes. “One jab is good enough. [We] see even one jab offers some help,” Hung said.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 32,597 new Covid-19 infections and 117 deaths. Since the pandemic began, the city has recorded 205,780 confirmed cases and 1,013 deaths.

Reports on possible 9-day lockdown

Meanwhile, reports of a possible lockdown accompanying the upcoming compulsory testing scheme for all residents in Hong Kong continue to emerge.

Sing Tao, HK01 and SCMP all reported that the government was planning to compress the testing window from the proposed three weeks to nine days, with people required to undergo nucleic acid tests once every three days. Urging calm amid panic buying, Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday said that the government was still “seriously assessing” whether to impose a lockdown during the compulsory testing.

empty street Lan Kwai Fong coronavirus covid
An empty street in Lan Kwai Fong. File photo: May James/HKFP.

However, the three publications made contradictory reports on the details of the rumoured lockdown measures. While Sing Tao reported that the nine-day testing would be coupled with a citywide lockdown throughout the period, HK01 said citizens would only be barred from leaving their homes for the first eight days if the test period is compressed.

Citing sources, SCMP reported that the government was still deciding whether the lockdown should be citywide or “on a rolling basis according to district.”

Both Sing Tao and SCMP reported that exemptions would be granted to personnel responsible for “maintaining essential services,” and HK01 suggested that were deciding whether people could buy takeaway during the proposed lockdown. Sing Tao’s sources also said the “core businesses” for Hong Kong to function as an international financial centre, including the stock market, would not suspend their operations.

While the government has been preparing for the compulsory universal testing scheme, Hung said on Tuesday morning that Hong Kong’s authorities had already missed its “golden opportunity” for mass testing, as the best timing would have been when the outbreak first emerged.

Covid-19 China help Tsing Yi quarantine centre
Tsing Yi quarantine centre. Photo: GovHK.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of people [infected], but do not have sufficient isolation facilities, even if you did [compulsory testing], it might not offer much help,” he said.

Although the Hong Kong government is expected to eventually have around 70,000 quarantine spaces, Hung said the testing might uncover hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 patients.

In that event, most of those who were infected would end up isolating at home, and the situation will be “similar to the current measures.”

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.