Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s BioNTech vaccinations likely to resume next week

  • An examination into faulty packaging concerns found no errors to support extending the jab’s suspension
  • BioNTech’s factory in Germany and mainland Chinese distributor Fosun Pharma were involved in the investigation
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People queue up for Covid-19 vaccines at Sha Tin's Community Vaccination Centre. Photo: SCMP / Felix Wong

Hong Kong is likely to resume its BioNTech vaccination programme next week after an investigation into faulty packaging found no errors that would require an extended suspension.

The government issued a statement on Saturday announcing the initial investigation results hours after Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip, the top official in charge of the vaccination drive, said he was expecting a report next week and the city could resume administering the German-made vaccine if no major problems were identified.

Here’s why the government suspended the vaccine

The statement said that a “comprehensive investigation covering all aspects of the supply chain” by BioNTech and its mainland Chinese distributor Fosun Pharma had not found any systemic problems that may have caused the flaws discovered in Hong Kong.

The investigation covered the entire process, from packaging at BioNTech’s factory in Germany and shipping to Hong Kong to storage and logistics management upon arrival, as well as inspection and handling at community vaccination centres.

Investigators said “environmental factors” could have damaged the vials during long-distance transportation, but concluded that the defects were not related to logistics and cold-chain management. Random sampling and testing of fully packaged vials found no leakage.

Will vaccines curb the pandemic in Hong Kong?

“Our plan is if the current batches have no quality and safety concerns, we can resume the vaccination,” Nip said earlier in a morning radio programme, adding that priority would be given to those due for their second jab.

“Residents do not have to redo the booking themselves; we will arrange an available time slot for them.”

Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who has already received his first BioNTech dose, said the findings proved that the vaccine was safe and he was hopeful the interrupted roll-out would resume.

People queue up for Covid-19 vaccines at Sha Tin's Community Vaccination Centre. Photo: SCMP / Felix Wong

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, another government pandemic adviser who received his first BioNTech shot before the vaccine roll-out was suspended last Wednesday, said there was no need for the public to worry, as he believed the government would solve the problem quickly. He noted that he already had “a high level of antibodies” after the first jab.

“As long as I can get a second dose within 42 days, or even a short period after 42 days, I will be fine. There’s still some time,” he said.

This came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned that herd immunity would take longer given the city’s vaccination rate, saying that perhaps social-distancing measures could be eased as an incentive.

What do you want to know about the vaccine?

In her monthly review of the pandemic situation, Lam said the vaccination rate remained low, at about 430,000 people as of Friday night, representing 6.6 per cent of eligible groups aged 16 or above, or 5.7 per cent of Hong Kong’s total population. By Saturday evening, the figure had increased to about 437,200.

“Based on the existing vaccination rate, I am afraid it will take longer to meet the target,” she said. The government’s target for creating herd immunity is vaccinating 70 per cent of the city’s population.

“To encourage more citizens to get vaccinated, we are actively studying if we can adjust social-distancing measures if a certain number of people are vaccinated. We will also discuss with other jurisdictions if any convenience can be offered to the vaccinated when travelling overseas.”

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