The Hong Kong government has been asked to authorise the use of BioNTech’s updated Covid-19 vaccines that provide better protection against Omicron subvariants. However, a medical expert said people should receive their fourth jab before an expected winter outbreak.

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. File photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense, via Wikicommons.

A government spokesperson told HKFP that a request had been received from BioNTech seeking approval of its new bivalent booster, which includes components of the original Covid-19 strain as well as the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5

But the spokesperson added that there was no timeframe for when the updated booster would be available, as the application was pending reviews by relevant authorities as well as the expert advisory panels.

In the meantime, the spokesperson said the two existing Covid-19 vaccines in Hong Kong remained effective in preventing severe infections and deaths, and that the public should get vaccinated ahead of possible coronavirus and flu outbreaks over the winter.

‘Don’t wait’

William Chui, the president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacies of Hong Kong, also said people aged 18 or above should take their fourth jab as soon as possible with the Covid-19 vaccines currently available in the city.

“Don’t wait for bivalent vaccines,” Chui said at a press meeting on Sunday. “[We] don’t know when they will arrive at Hong Kong. Although our society estimates [the arrival] to be in the first quarter of 2023, the winter outbreak will be soon and they won’t make it on time.”

William Chui, President of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong. File photo: The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong.

Citing the resurgence of Covid-19 in Singapore, Chui said around 25 per cent of new cases there were caused by Omicron BA.2.75. Chui predicted that Hong Kong would follow in Singapore’s steps and see its next wave before Lunar New Year.

Chui also said there was one Covid-19 strain – Omicron BA.2.75.2 – that was resistant to all available Covid treatments in Hong Kong. But the existing Covid vaccines were still able to reduce the risks of severe symptoms caused by Omicron BA.2.75 or Omicron BA.2.75.2, Chui added.

‘0+3’ is ‘most appropriate’

Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that Hong Kong’s “0+3” border measure is “the most appropriate arrangement,” amid calls for the complete removal of Covid-19 entry restrictions.

Eric Chan. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Chan said the existing arrangement was “an important step made after thorough thinking, involving detailed discussion inside the government, consultation with experts and analysis of various statistics.”

Under the current measures, travellers overseas are no longer required to undergo isolation in a designated hotel. However, they are barred from entering premises involving mask-off or group activities during their first three days after arrival.

Many other restrictions remain in place, as arrivals are still required to take rapid tests daily and nucleic acid tests on fixed dates. They also need to respect local Covid-19 rules such as the mask mandate, the Vaccine Pass scheme and a four-person limit on group gatherings.

Hong Kong reported 4,890 new Covid-19 cases and three related deaths on Sunday, bringing the city’s total to 1.8 million infections and 10,218 related deaths since the pandemic began.

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Peter Lee

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.