Hong Kong to let residents choose between Covid-19 vaccines

Hong Kong is seeking a further 7.5 million doses and residents will be offered a choice of which vaccine they will take. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong said residents will be allowed to choose which Covid-19 vaccine they want to take, as the city added a third candidate to its arsenal with an agreement to buy shots from AstraZeneca.

The city reached an agreement with AstraZeneca for 7.5 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a media briefing on Wednesday (Dec 23). The deal joins similar agreements with Pfizer-BioNTech and Chinese developer Sinovac Biotech, giving the city a total of 22.5 million potential doses of vaccines. Hong Kong is seeking a further 7.5 million doses and residents will be offered a choice of which vaccine they will take, according to Lam.

While the move will address concerns from residents anxious about taking a Chinese vaccine, it also raises the prospect of a run on particular shots. The three candidates are widely different and none of them have been approved for use in the city yet, which is enduring its fourth wave of the pandemic.

In a bid to encourage take-up of the vaccines, Lam said on Wednesday the government will set up a fund to provide financial support for patients who experience side effects.

Pfizer's vaccine, which data indicate has a 95 per cent protection rate against Covid-19, uses a new technology called messenger RNA that turns the body's own cells into vaccine-producing factories to fight the coronavirus. While the shot is considered to be safe, there have been some reports of serious allergic reactions.

Sinovac's shot is made using an inactivated version of the coronavirus that is said to prime human immune systems to fight it. The vaccine was found to be more than 50 per cent effective in a Brazilian clinical trial, though researchers delayed releasing more information at the request of the company.

AstraZeneca's vaccine has the most supply deals around the world, but initial clinical results were mixed.

Lam said on Wednesday the government has appointed a committee to approve the emergency use of the vaccines, signalling the city is moving closer to authorising the candidates.

Countries lacking the capacity to independently validate experimental drug therapies often rely on reviews of global leading drug authorities like the US Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer-BioNTech's shot has so far been approved in the US and the European Union, while Singapore approved it last week.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, the Chinese company with the rights to market the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, was preparing to seek approval of the shot soon after the US cleared it.

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