Coronavirus: HK should look at halting AstraZeneca jabs order, vaccine expert says; city confirms eight new Covid-19 cases

08-Apr-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong should consider halting its order for AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shots and focus instead on securing supplies of second-generation jabs that protect against mutated virus strains, according to a government adviser on vaccines.

With global regulators investigating the possibility of links between blood clots and the British-Swedish firm’s doses, Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said on Wednesday there was no urgent need to bring in a third type of vaccine, given the number of jabs already offered locally and the absence of virus variants spreading in the community.

The development came as authorities confirmed eight new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, six of which were imported. The two local cases were untraceable.

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Two infections were imported from India, two from Pakistan and the Philippines and Egypt each accounted for one. More than 10 preliminary-positive cases were also recorded, most of them imported.

The city’s case tally stood at 11,539, with 205 related deaths.

The city’s twin-vaccine approach to its inoculation programme using BioNTech and Sinovac doses is enough to cover its 7.5 million population, according to Hui, who sits on the government’s advisory panel for Covid-19 vaccines.

Hong Kong has also struck a deal to procure millions of doses from AstraZeneca, which developed its Covid-19 jab with Oxford University, and the government previously estimated the shots would arrive in the city in the second half of the year.

Hui said the British-Swedish firm had still not applied for the emergency use of its jab in Hong Kong, and believed more time would be needed for the investigation on its potential link to rare blood clots in adults.

Asked whether he thought the government should stop its procurement of that vaccine, he said: “You can put it this way. It’s efficacy rate is OK… but we have to consider its effectiveness on mutated virus strains and possible blood clot problems recently, so we don’t have to rush.”

He said although AstraZeneca vaccines had an efficacy rate of about 70 per cent for non-mutated virus strains, the figure was only about 10 per cent for the South African virus variant.

“Rather, the officials can start paying attention to whether there are other vaccines which can cover the mutated virus strains, or even some second-generation vaccines will emerge later. It won’t be too late even if we buy more vaccines at that time,” he said.

Hui’s comments came after the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) head of vaccine strategy Marco Cavaleri was quoted in Italian media on Tuesday as saying: “In my opinion, we can say it now, it is clear there is a link [of the blood clots] with the vaccine. But we still do not know what causes this reaction.”

But the agency said on Tuesday it had “not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing”.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides later said the agency was expected to make its decision “late on Wednesday”, adding she was in “close contact” with the EMA.

Professor Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong, said no conclusions had been drawn on any link between the vaccines and blood clots, but the city could still decide whether to go ahead with its purchase of the shots, based on the evidence to be announced later.

Ho noted the supply of vaccines in Hong Kong was still bigger than demand.

“If residents can have a choice on which vaccines they can take and if the government can make sure the supply is stable, then in case it is proved that there is a causality, it may be worth Hong Kong considering not buying the vaccines.”

The Food and Health Bureau said the Department of Health had not received an emergency-use application from AstraZeneca, but the government would closely monitor the latest information from other drug regulatory bodies and keep in touch with the drug manufacturer.

The bureau insisted it would make sure the vaccines were safe and effective before making them available to the public.

The city has struck deals to purchase 22.5 million doses of vaccines, with 7.5 million shots each coming from three suppliers: Sinovac Biotech; British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca; and Fosun Pharma, which is delivering the jab jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfiser.

Millions of the Sinovac and BioNTech jabs have already arrived in the city. The government’s earlier estimated arrival date for the AstraZeneca jabs was given without any concrete timetable.

Separately, Ho reiterated his call for Hong Kong to ban flights from the Philippines after mutated strains were found in some of the latest cases imported into the city, but expressed reservations about making vaccination compulsory for domestic helpers before entering the city.

He said imposing vaccination as a condition for those workers would go against the voluntary nature of the city’s inoculation programme, and there was a lack of evidence that helpers bore a higher infection risk than other occupations.

“We can discuss other occupations when talking about this… do they have to face a mandatory order to get vaccinated based on the same principle?

“The views against making the inoculation compulsory is still the mainstream in Hong Kong,” he said, adding the supply of vaccines in the Philippines was also tight.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, urged officials to take the wider public interest into account if they were driven to consider banning flights, rather than just focusing on domestic helpers.

Yung said existing local laws did not allow employers to make vaccination compulsory for domestic helpers and it might be easier for the workers’ home countries to introduce such requirements.

She also raised the question of who should bear responsibility if employers were made to pay for helpers to receive the jabs, from which their employees suffered adverse events.


Category: Hong Kong

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