HONG KONG - Hong Kong, whose vaccination drive has been hit by a slow take-up especially among seniors, will have to wait till end-October before at least 70 per cent of the eligible population get their first dose.
The extension of the target deadline by another month is the second in a span of two weeks, as officials struggle for a breakthrough in the take-up rate, as worries over the emergence of more infectious variants and the possibility of a new pandemic wave hover.
Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip, who oversees the inoculation drive, said on Thursday (Sept 9) that about eight million doses of vaccines have been administered so far.
About 63 per cent of the eligible population, or those aged 12 and above, have had the first dose, while about 55 per cent have received the two jabs, he said.
For those aged 12 to 19, the vaccination rate is 62 per cent, while it is just under 60 per cent for seniors aged between 60 and 69.
The vaccination rate for the group above the age of 80 is a mere 13 per cent.
"In the past two or three weeks, the vaccination rate has dropped somewhat. On Wednesday, the number of people who were given the jabs amounted to 12,000.
"Unless in the next 22 days, we have close to 20,000 people getting their first dose daily, we will have to wait till end-October to reach a 70 per cent vaccination rate," said Mr Nip.
He pledged to "be more proactive, more flexible and make it more convenient" for people to get their first jabs, especially the seniors, who are "the weakest link".
The government will aggressively enhance the outreach vaccination service to the malls and public housing estates, as well as arrange health talks and medical consultations to ease concerns.
From Thursday, more people can walk in for jabs without making an appointment, including staff of eldercare homes, restaurants, pubs and schools.
The city's vaccination drive started in end-February and officials had procured and authorised the use of 15 million doses in total of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac vaccines for its 7.5 million population.
As vaccination rate rises and demand whittles, operations of the community vaccination centres will be scaled down.
Only 21 of 26 community vaccination centres will open till year-end but operating hours will be shortened and they will no longer open throughout the week.
Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan, who was at the joint briefing, urged family members to get their seniors, particularly those who are chronically sick or with weak immunity, to go for the jabs.
She warned that the risk of serious complications and mortality increases with age and the elderly are most affected.
"If we look at those who are in the ICU (intensive care unit) or those who are having very severe situation or serious situation, all those are non-vaccinated ones," said Professor Chan.
She noted that the pandemic may have stabilised in Hong Kong but "what we need to do now is to have the entire population vaccinated so that we can return to normal".
Hong Kong, which has some of the toughest border control measures, has recorded no local infection in July and only two in August.
The city has so far clocked more than 12,100 confirmed cases and 212 deaths - among the lowest numbers in the world.