Hong Kong should make the Omicron-targeting Covid-19 BioNTech vaccine available for elderly or disabled people living in care homes, a panel of government health experts has said.

Hong Kong began administering the Omicron jab on Thursday. It is currently only available as an alternative to existing vaccines for those who have already received three doses.

Bivalent Covid-19 vaccine
The new Omicron-targeting BioNTech vaccine is available at community vaccination centres. File photo: GovHK.

However, according to the panel’s latest recommendations released on Thursday night, residents of elderly care homes who have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine should be able to choose to take the new bivalent BioNTech vaccine.

In light of low fourth-dose coverage at care homes, a recent rise in infections and an anticipated winter surge, residents were advised to get their next jab “as soon as feasible.”

The experts said care home residents who had received their fourth dose at least three months ago could choose to take a fifth, adding that the new bivalent BioNTech vaccine was “preferred.”

However, for adults with a weak immune system, the panel advised offering the new Omicron jab only after receiving at least three jabs of existing Covid-19 vaccines. If immunocompromised people wanted to receive a fifth dose, they were recommended to wait at least three months after their fourth.

“The aforesaid recommendations also apply to residents in the residential care homes for persons with disabilities,” the panel’s report read.

As for adults with healthy immune systems who have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, the panel said they should be allowed to choose the updated Omicron-targeting vaccine for their next dose.

An earlier statement from the same panel said the new German-made jabs – which target the original Covid-19 strain as well as Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 – “may provide broader immunity against different variants.”

Fifth dose

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said on Friday morning that those who received their fourth jab “right after the government urged them to be jabbed” could now opt to get a fifth dose.

Ho told Commercial Radio that in these cases, it could be up to seven months since their last vaccination. “If they have not been infected, they may want to get jabbed as they see a rise in daily cases,” Ho said.

Ho Pak-leung
Ho Pak-leung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

On Thursday, Hong Kong logged 10,137 new Covid-19 infections, of which 606 were imported. The number of positive cases have seen a steady increase since early November, when only around 5,000 new infections were recorded daily.

‘No need’ to isolate all elderly patients

Ho Pak-leung also urged health authorities to stop isolating Covid-positive patients in negative pressure wards in hospitals because the rooms were in limited supply.

Instead, he said that all vaccinated Covid-19 patients should be placed together in general wards. “This is the only way you can deal with the winter flu surge,” Ho added.

“Our hospitals in Hong Kong don’t have that many negative pressure wards to deal with the [winter] surge in service demand and accommodate thousands of Covid-19 patients at the same time,” Ho said.

Citing Hong Kong’s daily Covid-19 figures, Ho said only 0.4 per cent of the patients developed inflammation of the lungs and required oxygen.

“You should make adjustments now, to not shoot yourself in the foot.”

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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.