More Vaccine-Hesitant Hongkongers Are Finally Signing Up for COVID-19 Shots. Is It Because of the Give-Aways, or the Outbreak Nearby?

14-Jun-2021 Intellasia | Time | 5:02 AM Print This Post

For months, Hong Kong’s leaders have fretted about the city’s low COVID-19 vaccination rates. Despite vaccines being plentiful, free and available to anyone who wants one at a slew community health centers, just 18 percent of the city’s 7.5 million people chose to get a shot between February and the end of May.

But, there are signs that some of that vaccine hesitancy may be subsiding. In the last three weeks, the average number of people receiving their first COVID-19 shot each day has more than doubled, and the portion of residents with at least one dose has climbed to nearly 22%.

It’s a trend that coincides with two developments.

First, businesses in the Chinese territory began giving away a diverse array of high-end prizes, totalling an estimated $15 million, for residents who get the jab. The offerings include a private party on an Airbus A321neo passenger plane, gold bars worth more than $130,000, a Tesla Model 3 Long Range and, most notably, a $1.4 million apartment an eye-catching prize in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets.

The other development is a COVID-19 outbreak involving the more contagious Delta virus variant across the border in the Mainland city of Guangzhou, which authorities are struggling to contain. Some Hong Kong residents have family in Guangzhou, and the cities have strong economic ties, as well.

It’s not clear which impulse is driving more people to vaccination clinics the chance to win fabulous prizes, or the fear of a new outbreak but convincing Hongkongers, one of the most hesitant populations in the developed world, to get the COVID-19 vaccine could offer lessons for reaching other vaccine-hesitant communities.

“In the last week or two there has been a bump in the levels of interest in getting vaccination in people who have not yet received vaccination,” says Ben Cowling, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). “Some of that could be due to the latest incentives.”

The roots of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

There are myriad reasons for Hong Kong’s uninspiring vaccination rates including low trust in the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong’s relatively good handling of the pandemic so far. A YouGov survey of 21 places around the world found Hong Kong residents had the most vaccine hesitancy with just 37 percent of respondents saying they had been or would like to get vaccinated. For the US, that number was 69%.

Many residents don’t feel they need a vaccine to protect themselves, unlike places like the US and UK, which experienced severe outbreaks and used vaccinations to help suppress COVID-19. But the surge in cases in the region driven by new variants could be instilling a sense of urgency to get vaccinated, which experts say is crucial to prevent a fifth wave of infections in the city.


Category: Hong Kong

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