Coronavirus: Hong Kong health experts recommend teens only get one dose of the vaccine

  • The recommendation came in response to data showing adolescents to be at risk of a temporary condition involving the inflammation of tissues around the heart
  • The chance of developing the condition after one dose of the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is 80 per cent lower than after two

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Covid-19 vaccinations are currently open to residents aged 12 and older. Photo: SCMP/ May Tse

Teenagers should only get one dose of the German-made BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19 instead of the standard two shots, scientific advisers to Hong Kong’s government recommend, to reduce the chance of heart inflammation following inoculation.

“We recommend that adolescents aged 12 to 17 now should only receive one dose of the BioNTech vaccine and not two doses,” said Professor Lau Yu-lung, chairman of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, following a meeting with his colleagues.

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The 12-17 age group in Hong Kong can currently receive only the BioNTech vaccine, as the city is still waiting for clinical trial data before making a decision on including China’s Sinovac as well.

The recommendation came in response to both global and local data showing teenagers to be at risk of myocarditis and pericarditis – typically temporary conditions involving inflammation of tissues around the heart – following vaccination, but generally only after the second dose.

So far, Hong Kong has seen 37 cases of the conditions in minors following vaccination. All but five of the patients were boys, and all but seven developed the conditions after their second dose.

While data was not available on how many young people had already received their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine, more than 289,000 people aged 12 to 19 had received at least one. A total of 4.37 million of people in the city have had at least one jab.

Lau stressed that most of the children who experienced heart inflammation did not develop serious problems, but public hospitals would need to follow up on them.

The chances of developing the conditions after just one dose were 80 per cent lower than they were for two, Lau added.

Doctors say that given Hong Kong’s low Covid-19 risk, the protection offered by one dose of the vaccine would be sufficient. Photo: SCMP/May Tse

The one-dose recommendation was also considered appropriate given the low risk of contracting Covid-19 in Hong Kong.

“The protection offered by one dose would be sufficient,” Lau said.

Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin said certain questions would need to be resolved if the government did ultimately adopt the one-dose recommendation.

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“If we adopt it, further discussions will be needed on how to implement it … I believe there will [need to] be a mechanism on whether [adolescents with one dose] will be treated as a fully vaccinated case,” Lam said, adding that parents and young people seeking a second jab would now receive an explanation of the potential risks.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, the government said that those aged 12 to 17 who were already booked to receive their second dose could choose to cancel their appointments starting on Thursday. Those with “special needs” who opted to go ahead with their second shots would be told about the new recommendations by vaccination centre staff before making up their minds.

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Lau said there was a need to allow for some flexibility in administering two doses for children, given that some may need them when travelling to places at higher risk for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, when asked whether the age threshold for receiving the Sinovac vaccine – currently 18 – could be further lowered, Lau said only that such a move would need to be discussed by the government’s Advisory Panel on Covid-19 Vaccines and more data would be needed from the manufacturer.

Most countries have not yet begun vaccinating children under the age of 12, but in mainland China, those as young as three can receive the Sinovac shots, and the United Arab Emirates has implemented a similar threshold for Sinopharm jabs.

In Chile, Sinovac has been approved for children six and up, while Cuba has been inoculating children as young as two with locally developed vaccines.

Britain and Norway have also decided to administer adolescents aged 12 to 15 with just one dose.

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