Coronavirus HK: booster shots can proceed without local data on side effects and efficacy, top vaccination adviser says

14-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:53 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong should start administering Covid-19 booster shots to high-risk groups without waiting for local data on side effects and efficacy, a top government adviser has said as he suggested pushing ahead with preparations to meet a target on border reopening.

Professor Lau Yu-lung, who chairs the Centre for Health Committee’s (CHP) scientific committee on vaccine preventable diseases, backed an accelerated launch of third doses in the city after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended giving them to people with weakened immune systems, as well as elderly recipients of two Chinese-made jabs.

Lau said on Wednesday there was no need to wait for the findings of Hong Kong studies assessing the immunity response and potential side effects of third shots because local experts were able to draw on the actual experiences of countries which had already started administering extra doses on a wide scale.

“There is real-world data from a large-scale study from Chile, together with recommendations from WHO, which is a rather conservative agency,” Lau said, indicating that was sufficient to proceed with the Hong Kong programme.

The Chilean government data released earlier this month showed that people who received two shots of the Sinovac vaccine had a higher level of protection against Covid-19 after taking a booster shot. That applied to third doses of any of the vaccines developed by Sinovac, BioNTech or AstraZeneca.

While that study involved 4.78 million people, local versions each numbered only a few hundred and antibody analysis was performed in laboratories rather than on a real-world basis, Lau said.

He added the CHP’s joint scientific committee would discuss the issues surrounding booster shots on Thursday next week.

Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said some of the findings from his research into third doses one of only a few studies being undertaken locally would be presented at the meeting.

Health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee said it was only a matter of time before Hong Kong would start administering third doses. She added the government’s recent decision to donate 7.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to developing countries would not affect its booster shot plans.

More than 4.5 million people in Hong Kong have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, making up 67.5 per cent of the eligible population.

Also on Wednesday, Hong Kong confirmed three more Covid-19 cases, all imported. The daily tally was made up of two foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines and a traveller from Pakistan. Fewer than five people tested preliminary-positive.

The total number of confirmed infections in Hong Kong now stands at 12,275, with 213 related deaths.

Lau said the timing of the programme’s launch depended on a number of factors, including when the authorities reached a breakthrough in negotiations to fully reopen the city’s border with mainland China.

“Frontline health workers, staff of immigration and quarantine centres, cross-border truck drivers and airport workers all these people who are exposed to infection risks will need a booster as we prepare to reopen travel with the mainland,” he told a radio programme.

Hong Kong must start laying the groundwork for booster shots now if the city wanted to be ready for a potential reopening of the border following the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February, Lau said.

The mainland side has been cautious so far about any opening up, concerned in particular about Hong Kong’s border-control measures and continued reporting of imported cases.

The inability to track Hongkongers’ movements on the other side also remains a major obstacle, as the city’s health code is not linked to the mainland’s because of privacy concerns.

On Monday, WHO recommended giving immunocompromised people an additional dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The global health body issued the same advice to recipients of the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines who were aged 60 or older.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung said the WHO recommendation for the Chinese-made vaccines indicated there was strong justification for third doses.

“There’s still a need for more data on recipients of Sinovac and Sinopharm in this [over 60s] age group,” Ho told a separate radio show. “But WHO usually takes a more conservative stance… so if it is recommending a third jab, it must have some strong evidence.”


Category: Hong Kong

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