Hong Kong overtakes US in Covid-19 vaccinations after slow start

Hong Kong has administered almost 8.7 million shots. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong has fully vaccinated 55.8 per cent of its population against Covid-19, surpassing the US, but has yet to announce plans to reopen its borders.

The Asian financial hub has administered almost 8.7 million shots from BioNTech SE and Sinovac Biotech Ltd, after high levels of vaccine hesitancy initially curbed demand for the inoculations that protect against infection, severe disease and death.

The city has maintained a Covid-zero approach since the start of the pandemic, with no local outbreaks reported for more than three months. That reduced the urgency, for many, of getting shots.

Meanwhile, an outbreak continues to sicken thousands of Americans, mostly unvaccinated, every day.

Many of the 55.7 per cent who are already fully vaccinated may get even more protection, after the US Food and Drug Administration cleared booster shots for those given the immunisation from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention adopted their use for people at high-risk of contracting the virus from their workplace or who are in danger of falling seriously ill if infected.

A ways to go

Hong Kong is still struggling to get elderly citizens to show up for even one dose.

Only about 15 per cent of people aged 80 and older have received an initial injection, a number the government says it is "frantically" trying to boost.

The city started allowing walk-in slots for all age groups starting on Sept 22.

Hong Kong is still far from the target leaders said it needs to hit for reopening.

It won't consider shifting its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy to one of "living with the virus" until 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the population is vaccinated, a top adviser told Bloomberg.

The goal was later confirmed by Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health, Ms Sophia Chan, in an interview with Bloomberg Opinion.

Hong Kong's vaccination rate started to edge higher after the commercial sector stepped in with shopping coupons and lotteries to win an apartment for those getting immunised.

Reluctant to introduce mandates, the government has created policies designed to encourage vaccinations, including longer indoor dining hours and access to nightclubs and karaoke for those who are immunised.

The government also requires civil servants, teachers and nursing home staff to be immunised or undergo regular testing.

Booster shots won't be available for awhile, after the city's virus experts recommended delaying the decision until two to three months before it plans to open the border.

The US, one of the first places to authorise Covid vaccines, has already fallen to last among the Group of Seven countries in immunisation levels.

Hong Kong joins a raft of others in Asia, including Singapore, mainland China, Cambodia, Malaysia and Japan, that started later but are now outperforming the US in protecting against the virus.

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