Hong Kong leaders 'not in a hurry' to roll out Covid-19 vaccines

Hong Kong does not plan to begin Covid-19 inoculations until February. PHOTO: NYTIMES

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong is in no hurry to roll out Covid-19 vaccinations, according to government advisers, preferring instead to see what happens in other harder-hit places.

"We have the luxury of a bit of time to observe how the programme is being rolled out elsewhere, especially on the safety side," Dr Lam Ching-choi, a medical doctor and member of the Chief Executive's advisory Executive Council, said in an interview on Monday (Jan 11).

"Our experts are not in a hurry to be the first to be doing a vaccination programme. We're finding a balance between not having the vaccine late, and having adequate supplies, and we have the luxury to know that the vaccine we've purchased is safe."

Unlike the United States, Britain and China, which have administered millions of vaccinations since December, Hong Kong has yet to authorise a vaccine and does not plan to begin inoculations until February.

Officials already declined to receive a January shipment of Sinovac vaccines because regulatory approval was pending, according to Dr Lam. The city has purchased enough doses - a mix of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac Biotech and AstraZeneca vaccines - to cover its 7.5 million residents, and plans to offer people a choice of which vaccine they will take.

Hong Kong has reported just 9,283 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, making it one of the most Covid-19 resilient places in the world. But the city is now struggling to contain a fourth wave that has resurrected tight social distancing requirements and frustrated local businesses - especially restaurants - and parents of school-age children.

The authorities have reported between 25 and 60 daily cases over the last week.

The city has also seen 159 deaths from Covid-19 - still roughly half of the total death toll inflicted on Hong Kong from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, which killed nearly 300 people in the early 2000s.

In separate comments on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam noted that rolling out vaccines would not bring an immediate end to social distancing.

Hong Kong's government did not immediately respond on Tuesday to further inquiries about the vaccination programme. The cautious approach could result in wider public acceptance of the vaccines once they become available, according to Professor David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the government's Covid-19 advisory panel.

"It's good that we have data from North America and also the UK - which have already commenced the vaccination programme - to show us more information about the unknown side effects, such as severe allergic reaction, so we can have better preparation," Prof Hui said.

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