HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong expanded eligibility for Covid-19 vaccines to all residents aged 16 and older, in the government's latest attempt to boost a low inoculation rate by making the shots widely accessible.
Residents aged 16 and above will be allowed to receive BioNTech SE vaccines, while those older than 18 will also be able to opt for shots made by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip said at a briefing on Thursday (April 15).
Bookings for the expanded group will start on April 23, Mr Nip said, and 16 and 17-year-olds will need parental consent forms to be vaccinated.
BioNTech vaccinations will only last until the end of September due to supply, Mr Nip said, and appointments for the first dose must be made by August. He urged citizens to get inoculated as soon as possible.
No third vaccine is expected in the city this year, said Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan.
The expansion means that Hong Kong's entire adult population will now be eligible to receive vaccines, making it one of the first places globally to offer eligibility to its full adult population.
"We have the capacity to expand the coverage of the vaccination scheme," Mr Nip said. "It's the appropriate time to introduce this arrangement."
While the Asian financial hub has largely managed to contain the virus, its rollout has been hampered by public distrust in both the Beijing-backed government and questions about the safety and efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, slowing efforts to reach the herd immunity crucial for a full economic reopening.
About 951,000 total vaccine doses had been administered to the Hong Kong public as of Wednesday, according to Bloomberg's Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker - with at least one dose given to just 8.4 per cent of the population, compared to 19.8 per cent in neighbouring finance capital Singapore.
The expansion comes days after the city outlined "vaccine bubbles" that would impose fewer social curbs on vaccinated people. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has also said the government was planning to only allow those who have had Covid-19 shots to fly from the city to Singapore once both governments finalise a travel bubble.
Hong Kong has been expanding vaccine access rapidly since its rollout started in late February, as few among priority groups came forward in earlier stages of the campaign. Healthy adults aged 30 and up, domestic helpers and students aged 16 and above who study at overseas institutions were made eligible in March.
The city is currently administering vaccines made by Sinovac and Mainz, Germany-based BioNTech, after the latter was temporarily halted last month following packaging defects found in some vials. The BioNTech programme was resumed after authorities concluded that the defects did not pose a safety risk.