Hong Kong expands Covid-19 vaccination priority list

At least two people have died and several fallen seriously ill after receiving a vaccination. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - City officials have added more people to Hong Kong's islandwide inoculation priority list and defended the programme even as pressure mounts after more adverse reactions to the jabs were recorded.

Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip, the minister overseeing the city's free and voluntary vaccination programme, on Monday (March 8) said 1.3 million people are expected to benefit from the expansion that will have seven other priority groups allowed to book online appointments from Tuesday (March 9) for vaccination.

They include staff of eateries, supermarkets, markets, convenience stores, food delivery services, drivers, construction, property management, schools and those in the travel industry. Those who work in gyms and in the beauty sector are also included.

A dozen more community vaccination centres will begin administering the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine from next Tuesday, Mr Nip said, adding that the government is looking to ramp up the number of vaccinations it can handle per day.

So far, some 93,000 people have received the first dose of vaccination, of which 91,800 are from Sinovac, and the rest are Pfizer-BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine.

The development comes as officials face mounting pressure in rolling out inoculation and a drop in bookings for the vaccines amid news of adverse reactions to the jabs that started on Feb 26.

So far, three people have died after taking the Sinovac jabs.

Two of the deaths involved a 55-year-old woman who suffered a stroke days after getting the jab and a 63-year-old man who died two days after getting the vaccine.

The expert panel tasked to look into the matter on Monday ruled out direct links to the Sinovac jab.

The panel said it is still investigating the case of the third deceased, a 71-year-old man who died on Monday.

Dr Ronald Lam, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said 64 per cent of those who have taken the jabs in Hong Kong are over the age of 60.

He said there were 16 mild adverse reactions and 45 required hospital admissions or were serious reactions to the jabs.

Officials have said reactions reported include headaches, chest discomfort, skin rash and heart palpitations.

He reminded people who suffer from chronic illnesses to check with their doctors before making a decision on getting vaccinated.

When asked, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said some mild or serious adverse effects have been reported in other countries' inoculation drives.

"What's most important is that we have to look into those cases to see if there is any direct causal association so that we would be able to find out the causes of such events," Prof Chan said.

"Whether it is Sinovac or Comirnaty, inevitably there might be some adverse events. But then once we have taken a decision to have these vaccines introduced to Hong Kong, we have already made the judgement that they are safe and appropriate," she stressed.

Hong Kong on Monday recorded nine new infections, of which six are local and three are imported.

This brings the total confirmed cases since the pandemic started to 11,099 and 202 deaths.

Even as the pandemic appears to ease slowly and social distancing measures were loosened in recent weeks, the toll on the city's businesses, particularly tourism, aviation and food and beverage continues.

The latest business to succumb to Covid-19 is UA Cinemas, one of the city's largest movie theatre chains that had a 36-year run.

Founded in 1985 by American businessman Ira Kaye, the chain on Monday stated on its website that it would cease operations with immediate effect "due to unavoidable and devastating pressure" from the pandemic.

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