Hong Kong, Macau halt Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine batch after defective packaging

Macau said it had received written notice about the defects in a batch of vaccines from Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group.
Macau said it had received written notice about the defects in a batch of vaccines from Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong and Macau on Wednesday (March 24) temporarily suspended Covid-19 vaccinations using two batches developed by Pfizer-BioNTech citing defective packaging, but said manufacturers indicated they had no reason to believe safety was at risk, and the move was merely a preventative measure.

Hong Kong and Macau said it had received notice from Fosun Pharma Industrial (Hong Kong), the distributor of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, that packaging defects had been detected in a vaccine batch – numbered 210102 - related to the closure of bottles.

“BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have not found any reason to believe that product safety is at risk,” the Hong Kong government said. It was not immediately clear how many shots would be affected, but it said use of batch 210102 would be suspended, as would that of another batch, numbered 210104, until further notice.

“For the sake of precaution, the current vaccination must be suspended during the period of investigation,” Hong Kong’s government said in a statement.

The suspension marks the latest setback for Hong Kong’s vaccine roll-out, which has been slowed by public distrust in the Beijing-backed government. While takeup of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab had begun to outpace that of shots made by Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, the suspension risks eroding public confidence in both options.

The city began vaccinating residents with doses from Sinovac in February, and began offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in March.

Hong Kong’s business and banking community has been pushing for the city to relax some of the world’s strictest coronavirus containment measures, but the government has been hesitant to do so until vaccination rates rise. As of Monday, about 5 per cent of the financial hub’s residents had received their first vaccine shots.

Confusion

Residents have signed up in droves for the Pfizer-BioNTech shots since Hong Kong widened eligibility to adults aged 30-59 earlier this month, an effort to boost vaccination rates and achieve the herd immunity needed to fully reopen the pandemic-battered economy.

In Hong Kong, confusion reined at some vaccination sites on Wednesday morning. At the Ap Lei Chau Sports Centre, staffers first told people waiting in line that the day’s shots would be suspended. They then reopened the centre only to close it again within the span of about an hour. By that time, many people with the earliest appointments had already been jabbed.

Outside the vaccination centre, confused residents – some of whom had just received their shots – queried staffers about what was going on, only to get responses that the reason for the suspension was unclear.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have initiated an investigation into the issue and say there is no reason to believe product safety is at risk, according to a Macau government statement.