Hong Kong’s Vaccines Available to 30-Year-Olds as Priority Groups Shy Away
People line up at a community vaccination center administering the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine imported by Fosun Pharma in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Lam Yik/Bloomberg)

Hong Kong’s Vaccines Available to 30-Year-Olds as Priority Groups Shy Away

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Hong Kong expanded its vaccination campaign to young adults aged 30 years old and above after the vast majority of people in its priority groups shied away from taking a shot, leaving millions of doses unused.

Those aged 30 to 59 years old can now sign up for a Covid-19 vaccine from Tuesday, while students from the age of 16 and above can also get one if they’re studying in foreign institutions, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said at a briefing Monday. Domestic helpers are also now eligible.

In total, a group of 5.5 million people can now sign up for vaccination, representing over 70% of the city’s 7.5 million-strong population.

The rapid expansion comes just two and a half weeks into Hong Kong’s vaccine drive, making it one of the first major economies to offer vaccines to the bulk of its population. In other places from the U.S. to Singapore, access is still being kept to priority groups like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions as the limited supply of shots is carefully rationed.

But the move is concerning for Hong Kong, as it signals that the city will have an uphill battle persuading most of its population to get vaccinated -- seen as a condition for the global reopening of travel. Only 198,100 people have received their first dose, accounting for just 5.4% of the earlier eligible groups that included the elderly and healthcare workers.

“Now is a key time point. We need all residents to actively participate in the vaccination program,” said Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan at the briefing. “This is vital for shaping our virus-curbing rules going forward.”

Vaccine hesitation appears widespread across Asia. India and mainland China had a slow start -- with 2.17 and 3.75 doses per 100 people, respectively, per Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker -- due at least in part to distrust and concern about the efficacy of the vaccines. Competing Asian financial center Singapore, meanwhile, has given 10.72 doses per 100 people, compared to just 2.35 in Hong Kong.

With their outbreaks largely contained and deaths low, Asia-Pacific economies can arguably afford to wait and learn from how the unprecedented vaccine drives play out elsewhere. But that go-slow approach also runs the risk of disadvantaging them economically and their edge of containing the virus.

Public resistance has only intensified after the vaccine drive kicked off, due to reports of at least six deaths among the more than 150,000 inoculated with the vaccine from Chinese maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Though none of the deaths have been directly linked to Sinovac’s shot, the no-show rate of people who made appointments for inoculation has risen to as high as 30%.

The no-show rate for the BioNTech vaccine, the other shot available locally, also increased to 14% on Sunday from less than 10% last week.

Chan said that the government will further relax curbs only if vaccine rates rise. Vaccine adoption will also help other countries have more faith in opening up to Hong Kong, she said.

The authorities have ordered 22.5 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac, BioNTech as well as AstraZeneca Plc.

“Hong Kong is lucky in that we ordered enough vaccines for residents,” said Chan. “Vaccines have an expiry date, I urge residents to get vaccinated quickly, otherwise we risk wasting the vaccines.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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