Children as young as five are required to use Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Vaccine Pass from Friday, with some schools and children’s rights groups expressing concern over how it might impact their education and psychological development.

The expansion of the Vaccine Pass scheme to younger residents was announced earlier this month, requiring children to receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 jab to enter premises such as restaurants, libraries and sports facilities.

The Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung visited the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital on August 15 to inspect the first-day operation of the vaccination centre concurrently providing vaccination services with the Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines. Photo: GovHK.

As a result of the new policy, some schools have had to make adjustments to extracurricular activities as some students were not vaccinated.

Polly Chan, vice chairperson of Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association, said on a Commercial Radio programme on Friday that her school had postponed large-scale events, such as athletics meets and a swimming gala, to the second semester, hoping that the requirement would have eased by then.

“We have a school trip in December and we have already booked a campsite but maybe not all students can go. We need to separate the students – some can go to the campsite while the others may need to be taken to places that are not regulated [by the Vaccine Pass], such as public areas and parks,” Chan said.

Photo: GovHK.

She added that schools had to come up with creative workarounds, such as inviting external parties to come on campus for activities or talks rather than taking the students to them, and using virtual reality and augmented reality for virtual visits.

A small portion of parents have insisted on not vaccinating their children, the school principal said. She said she respected their choice and could only remind them of the limited activities their children could take part in.

Right to education

The Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights, meanwhile, urged the government to make compromises in a bid to balance the needs for epidemic control and children’s right to education and development.

Photo: GovHK.

“We are thinking if the government can [meet the parents] halfway – perhaps don’t bar children from certain premises if they are not fully vaccinated and instead require a rapid antigen test just like when they go to school,” Wong Wai-yuk, the group’s executive secretary, said on the same Commercial Radio programme. “That way, they can have the same treatment as their peers and achieve the original intention of education,”

Wong urged the authorities to adopt a more humane approach to introducing policies.

‘A good policy’

Paediatrics expert Mike Kwan, who also serves on the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, said the Vaccine Pass itself was a “good policy.”

Speaking on RTHK on Friday, Kwan said the scheme did not aim to “force a certain group of people to get vaccinated” but rather acted as an encouragement. He said it would be good for children to be able to return to places such as public libraries once they are jabbed.

Currently, Hong Kong’s first-dose vaccination rate stood at 94 per cent, while 91 per cent of the population has received two doses.

Vaccination exemptions

Under the Vaccine Pass scheme, people who are not fully vaccinated must show proof of recovery from Covid-19 or an exemption certificate to enter certain premises.

Photo: GovHK.

Cited sources, Sing Tao reported on Friday that around 200 to 300 of the 850 civil servants holding a medical exemption certificate had obtained it from the seven doctors accused of issuing false certificates. The government did not rule out handing the matter to the police for criminal investigation, the outlet added.

The newspaper also cited civil servants saying those who had obtained the document from the doctors in question had been asked to provide new proof of exemption from another doctor, or else they would be barred from the office and sacked over “disciplinary issues.”

HKFP has reached out to the Civil Service Bureau for comment.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.