HONG KONG • Hong Kong will set up 18 community vaccination centres - one in every district - to each handle at least 2,000 residents a day as the city prepares to administer the Covid-19 shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as early as the end of February.
These centres will handle only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while the other two shots the city has ordered - from Sinovac Biotech and AstraZeneca - will be distributed to private hospitals and clinics, said Dr Thomas Tsang, a member of Hong Kong's vaccination programme task force.
The separate distribution is to avoid mixing up the vaccines, as the Pfizer-BioNTech shot needs to be handled at colder temperatures than the others.
Hong Kong will allow people to choose their vaccine, though the shots from Sinovac and AstraZeneca will not be available yet since they have not cleared the city's regulatory process.
"Our priority really is to have an organised programme," Dr Tsang said in an interview on Tuesday. "We try to do it as smoothly as possible, because that's important to build public confidence. We surely don't want something unexpected or some logistic hiccups."
Unlike some pandemic hot spots such as London and New York, where governments are racing to inoculate their populations as quickly as possible to bring surging cases under control, Hong Kong can afford a more cautious pace. Its Covid-19 infections have not risen as drastically, with strict social distancing rules keeping local cases to a few dozen daily.
The city will not start vaccinating its citizens until the end of next month at the earliest. Also, in an effort to prevent overburdening its hospitals, Hong Kong may not vaccinate all elderly citizens and those in nursing homes at once, instead approaching such high-risk residents in stages.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that she has asked China to supply more vaccines because of a hiccup with the city's other orders.
An earlier report said Mrs Lam was seeking shots developed by Sinopharm, which currently does not have a vaccine contract with Hong Kong.
The city has purchased enough doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines to cover its 7.5 million residents, and is looking for a fourth pact to boost coverage to twice its population.
Dr Tsang said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive in batches of one million to 1.5 million doses every month, though the first batch will not arrive until the end of next month.
"We expect Sinovac to submit the complete clinical trial data with all the details included," said Dr Tsang. "Right now, we have only bits and pieces from officials in different places, but these are not up to our scientific standard. That's a crucial bit of information that is missing - and the same for AstraZeneca."
The government has not set a timeline for the roll-out, Dr Tsang said. But he hopes high-risk groups such as the elderly and healthcare workers can be vaccinated within half a year or less.
A survey earlier this month by the University of Hong Kong which involved up to 1,000 people showed that general acceptance of vaccines in the Chinese special administrative region was low, with only 46 per cent of those polled likely to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
Trust in the Sinovac vaccine was significantly lower, with 29.5 per cent of respondents accepting it compared with 56 per cent of people who would take one produced by Germany's BioNTech and 35 per cent who would take one produced by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.