HK leader Carrie Lam asks Beijing’s help in securing Covid-19 vaccine from state-owned Sinopharm, citing ‘hiccups’ in procuring jabs

27-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:22 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday revealed she had sought Beijing’s help in securing Covid-19 jabs from state-owned Sinopharm after experiencing “hiccups” in the procurement of the three vaccines already purchased by the city.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remarks suggested the roll-out of mass vaccinations would be deferred until at least the end of next month, contrary to earlier assurances the programme could begin after the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February.

But vaccine advisers have warned that a third round of clinical data published in medical journals, something Sinopharm had yet to provide, remained a prerequisite for their recommendation.

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Speaking ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam also hailed the unprecedented lockdown of one of Hong Kong’s most densely populated areas as a “success”, praising the bid to ensure Covid-19 testing as “smooth, orderly and effective”.

“We have been very concerned about the supply of vaccines for Hongkongers because this is really the light of the end of the tunnel,” Lam said.

But Lam admitted the administration had experienced difficulties in securing doses of the Pfiser-BioNtech vaccine, Beijing-based Sinovac’s CoronaVac and the jab jointly developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University despite having advance purchase agreements in place.

“They all have a little bit of a hiccup. For the one that has been authorised by the secretary for food and health… the supply will only come by the end of February from Germany,” she said, referring to the Pfiser-BioNtech jabs.

The supply of CoronaVac shots, which had also been authorised and originally scheduled for delivery by the end of January, had also been delayed, while the ones from AstraZeneca would not arrive until the second half of the year, Lam added.

“But at the same time, we have a desperate need for vaccination among high-risk groups and cross-border workers,” she said.

“With those considerations in mind, I triggered [an understanding agreed to] when I visited Beijing last November, that if there was a need in Hong Kong, the chief executive could always approach the central people’s government for help in trying to secure a mainland-developed vaccine for Hong Kong.”

The vaccine Lam has now requested, developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products under the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), was conditionally approved in December for market launch.

The mainland health authority said the vaccine, which employs an inactivated virus, had similar rates of adverse events to other such vaccines.

According to their trial results, less than 0.1 per cent of subjects experienced mild fevers while serious allergic reactions occurred in about two per million. But the authority was still awaiting results of third-stage clinical trials.

Professor Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, who is advising the government on its vaccination plan, told a Tuesday morning radio show that the most important thing for adopting a vaccine, whether it came from Sinopharm or Sinovac, was the third round of clinical data.

“Without this information, it is difficult for the [government's vaccination] committee to vet and recommend its use. People’s health is the most important consideration,” he said.

Chinese University respiratory expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, another pandemic adviser, said that in principle, if Sinovac could not be supplied to Hong Kong in time, the government should procure another vaccine product which used the same technology platform, though he had been unaware the government planned to introduce Sinopharm.

“But the procedure [for using it] will be the same. We need to look at the third-stage clinical data published in medical journals,” he told another radio programme.

Meanwhile, Lam praised the 44-hour lockdown of Yau Tsim Mong district over the weekend, a scheme she referred to as a “restriction testing declaration”, as a “success”.

Health experts and critics had earlier questioned the effectiveness of the unprecedented lockdown, which uncovered only 13 coronavirus infections out of more than 7,000 residents tested, or a 0.17 per cent positive rate.

“It has been conducted in a smooth and orderly manner and has proven to be effective. Most of the experts also agreed with our operation,” Lam said on Tuesday.

Insisting the lockdown had helped halt the spread of coronavirus in the area, Lam said the Centre for Health Protection had been given the personal details of about 200 residents who had evaded the mandatory testing for follow-up.

“I really hope we don’t have to talk about enforcement, we are talking about public health,” she said.

But Lam also conceded it was unfortunate that news of the plan had been leaked beforehand, and vowed to carry out smaller lockdowns encompassing fewer housing blocks in the future.


Category: Hong Kong

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