Hong Kong to resume administering Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after safety evaluation

The two problem batches would not be used as Pfizer-BioNTech and Fosun Pharma are still in the midst of a comprehensive review. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong will resume administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from next Monday (April 5), placing the citywide vaccination programme back on track.

Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip, who helms the city's voluntary vaccination drive, said in an update on Thursday (April 1) that a fresh batch of 300,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is expected to arrive in the city on Friday.

For the 180,000 people affected by the 12-day suspension of the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, new slots in the following days would be provided to them, he added.

"We want to proceed with the vaccination programme at full speed," said Mr Nip when asked about the arrangements.

The fresh doses of vaccines will be produced and packaged at a plant separate from the one where the problem batches originated, which led to the suspension.

Mr Nip said the two problem batches would not be used as Pfizer-BioNTech and distributor Fosun Pharma were still in the midst of a comprehensive review.

He also assured the public that the vaccines are safe.

Hong Kong's five-week-old vaccination programme has been plagued with reports of adverse events such as facial paralysis and heart palpitations, as well as deaths, before the suspension hit, further weakening public confidence in it.

Various polls released in January found that most Hong Kongers were hesitant about vaccination.

On March 24, the authorities in Hong Kong and Macau announced the abrupt suspension of the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after they were alerted to faulty packaging in 57 instances.

These included cracks in containers, leakage due to over-pressure from vials, loose caps and stains or marks on the outside of bottles.

Some 150,000 shots had been administered by then.

On Thursday, director of health Constance Chan said that the defects were linked to the extremely low temperature of minus 75 deg C at which the vaccines must be stored.

She said the plastic stoppers' flexibility was affected by the temperature, so the metal ring could not be fixed tightly to the cap. This in turn allowed air to seep in and led to leakage or loose vial caps.

The city has administered 505,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, the majority of which were the Chinese-made Sinovac - the only other approved one in Hong Kong.

The city recorded 13 new infections on Thursday, with only two local cases. In all, Hong Kong has recorded 11,480 cases and 205 deaths.

Health officials moved to reopen swimming pools and beaches, raise the operating capacities of performance venues and cinemas, and allow small religious gatherings from Thursday for two weeks.

But they cautioned that even though the pandemic is now under control, it is not the time to let up, so no further concessions will be made.

Bars, pubs, mahjong parlours and nightclubs will remain shut and dine-in services will continue to end at 10pm.

Mrs Julia Dubois, 38, who was due to be vaccinated on Wednesday, is looking forward to a new appointment date.

"As a mother, the vaccine is the only protective barrier between me and my family. I cannot afford for the fifth wave to hit the city's schools and streets," she said.

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