Get a jab, win a flat: Incentives help boost HK vaccination drive

Private sector offering lucky draws, goodies in bid to overcome high vaccine hesitancy

Get a shot at winning a flat after you go for a Covid-19 jab? In Hong Kong, Christmas has come early for people as the private sector pitches in with lucky draws and goodies to boost the vaccination rate, even as the pandemic situation has stabilised.

Since late last month, Hong Kong has been flooded with announcements of giveaways, from a HK$10.8 million (S$1.9 million) flat to Mercedes-Benz cars to gold bars.

Developers Sino Group and Chinese Estates Holdings on May 28 offered vaccinated permanent residents a chance to win a 449 sq ft, one-bedroom flat in Kwun Tong. Sino Group's Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation is also giving inoculated Hong Kong residents a chance to win 20 prepaid credit cards worth HK$100,000 each.

These carrots did the job. On May 28, 35,800 individuals got their jabs, up from 26,000 the previous day, while 25,600 made bookings, up from 20,200 on May 27.

The vaccination drive looks set to speed up, with Henderson Land Development saying, for example, that it will hold lucky draws dishing out gold bars.

So far, 25 per cent, or 1.9 million, of the 7.5 million population have received at least one shot, while more than 1.2 million have had two.

The high vaccine hesitancy, despite easy access to a choice of either a Sinovac or BioNTech jab, is led by fears of adverse reactions.

The Department of Health on May 21 received 2,890 reports of adverse events, or 0.15 per cent of the total vaccine doses administered. These included 20 deaths, or 0.001 per cent of all doses given, where the drug was taken within 14 days before they died.

An expert committee concluded that five of the 20 who died had no causal relationship with the vaccination, and preliminarily considered that 15 cases were not associated with the inoculation.

Health experts and critics have also pointed to the lack of trust in the government as another factor for people dragging their feet. With some of the BioNTech jabs set to expire in August, officials have been urging people not to wait.

Said Dr Leung Chi Chiu of the Hong Kong Medical Association: "As long as we can clarify the misunderstanding over safety, the vaccine uptake will go up when people see more and more successful vaccinations among people surrounding them."

He added that with the incentives offered, the momentum for getting protection is building.

Calls for vaccine passports have grown, with government health adviser David Hui saying in March that should Hong Kong enter into such agreements, those who are inoculated should be exempted from quarantine within six months of the jabs.

The Hong Kong government has been pushing for residents to get inoculated as it bids to revive the economy. In the first quarter of this year, gross domestic product rose by 7.9 per cent year on year.

But the overall economic activity remains below the pre-recession level. The authorities are looking to see if they can shorten hotel quarantines for fully vaccinated travellers from most places to seven days if they pass an antibody test, Bloomberg reported.

The report said the authorities are trialling tests - which confirm that a person has been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 - like those that require a prick of the finger.

Currently, travellers to Hong Kong have to undergo quarantine in a hotel for up to 21 days, vaccinated or not. The pandemic situation has been under control for weeks now and the city has so far recorded more than 11,800 confirmed infections and 210 deaths.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 20, 2021, with the headline 'Get a jab, win a flat: Incentives help boost HK vaccination drive'. Subscribe