Health experts and authorities have cited the low vaccination rate among Hong Kong’s elderly residents as a major contributing factor in the high number of Covid-related deaths during the city’s fifth wave of infections. After more than a year of encouraging older residents to get inoculated, one NGO has started providing at-home vaccination services for the elderly and disabled, with the government set to launch its own scheme soon. Here is what you need to know about Hong Kong’s door-to-door vaccination services. Who is providing free home vaccination services? In collaboration with the Federation of Medical Societies of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) launched a pilot programme from March 21 to offer Sinovac jabs to homebound elderly and people with disabilities. More than 6,000 residents have applied for the service as of Monday. The initiative aims to get 10,000 people to receive their first shots by the end of April. Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said on Sunday the government would launch its own scheme to vaccinate more homebound residents in need. Nip said data from the fifth wave indicated that the fatality rate of unvaccinated residents was much higher than inoculated Hongkongers, adding that getting vaccinated was “the most important and only way” to get through the pandemic. “We understand that some elderly or people with disabilities may not be able to access community vaccination centres due to mobility issues or other reasons,” he said. “Therefore, we will work together with healthcare providers, local organisations and social welfare groups to promote the home vaccination programme.” During the early stages of the government programme, only Sinovac vaccines would be offered, Nip said, with participants only receiving BioNTech jabs if it was necessary. Who is eligible? Can I help elderly members of my family apply? Any unvaccinated elderly, disabled persons with mobility issues or their family members can apply for the HKCSS’s programme by calling the hotline at 3705 5658 until April 20. No age limit is specified. After registering over the phone, the resident’s information will be sent to social service organisations, which will contact potential recipients to conduct a health assessment. The government scheme will cover elderly residents aged over 70 and disabled persons, who can register via its newly launched website. Family members of recipients or charities can also help with applications. Nip said the government would ask charitable organisations to test the website starting from this week. Hong Kong elderly left it late for Covid shots, families fear time running out “We will ask the organisations to help the unvaccinated elderly aged over 70 or disabled people whom they meet during their home visits to register on the online platform,” he said. “After the try-out, we will fully roll out the website to the public.” From this week, authorities will also arrange for vaccine sign-ups for eligible individuals during building lockdowns. If candidates’ test results are negative, home vaccination services will be provided the day after the lockdown is completed. Nip explained that door-to-door test sample collection services had been provided to people unable to leave their flats: “It is likely that these people also could not receive the jabs due to mobility issues.” How does it work? The HKCSS programme’s outreach teams are in charge of administering vaccines and consist of doctors, nurses and care ambassadors, according to its business director Cliff Choi Kim-wah. “Before the vaccination, an assessment will be conducted and the participant will be briefed. After obtaining his or her consent, we will begin the vaccination,” he said, adding that the recipient would rest for 15 minutes after getting the jab and be accompanied by a staff member. For the government scheme, Nip said medical outreach teams were currently being organised. Workflow for each team, such as transporting vaccines, arranging for home visits by doctors and nurses, observing the 15-minute rest for jab recipients and printing out proof of vaccination, was also being finalised. Outreach teams would start with one building under lockdown and move on to other buildings once staff had become familiar with the workflow, Nip added. How about the elderly and people with disabilities at care homes? The government has already sent outreach teams to 1,100 care facilities for the elderly and disabled, with all eligible residents receiving at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of March 18. Outreach teams or doctors also planned to visit all facilities at least twice before April 15 to administer first jabs to those who had recovered or second doses to other eligible residents. Both the Chinese-produced Sinovac and German-made BioNTech are available for residents at care facilities. As of March 24, about 43,400, or 56 per cent, of care home residents had received one vaccine dose, while 40 per cent were ineligible after recently contracting Covid-19. A total of 784 homes for the elderly and 285 care centres for the disabled have reported outbreaks so far amid the fifth wave of infections, with about 56 per cent of Covid-related deaths being residents of these facilities. How many elderly residents in Hong Kong have been fully vaccinated? The inoculation rate for the elderly aged over 70 has yet to reach 90 per cent, meaning more than 200,000 of them are still not protected against the virus. As of Monday, 71.4 per cent of the elderly aged over 70 have received one shot, 58.9 per cent have received two shots and 25.6 per cent have taken the booster. Nip said 100,000 doses were available daily but the number of jabs administered per day remained at around 60,000. First-dose Covid vaccination rate among Hong Kong’s elderly plunges 85 per cent “Instead of waiting for people to come and get the shots, we need to reach out to the people,” he said. Residents aged 60 or above accounted for about 96 per cent of the deaths recorded in the fifth wave, most of them unvaccinated or only with one dose. The mortality rate for elderly residents aged over 80 who were vaccinated with one dose or unvaccinated is 11.83 per cent, compared with 3 per cent for those who received two doses.