Hot Topics: just a single dose of the BioNTech vaccine for Hong Kong youth aged 12 to 17

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  • The city’s government has recently announced that children aged 12 to 17 only need one dose of the vaccine to have protection from severe conditions caused by the coronavirus
  • Meanwhile, Pfizer says they will seek approval from the US government to administer the BioNTech vaccine on children aged five to 11, as recent trials have proven it to be effective
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Hong Kong’s single-jab policy may mean more pupils can return to in-person full-day classes. Photo: May Tse

Hot Topics takes an issue that’s being discussed in the news and allows you to compare and analyse different news articles and viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth and can be used on your own, or with a friend.

Context: Latest one-dose BioNTech vaccine guidance for city’s adolescents

Hong Kong’s adolescents aged 12 to 17 will now only need one dose of the German-made BioNTech vaccine. This comes after scientific committees under the Centre for Health Protection said early this month that such a move would help reduce the risks of myopericarditis – an inflammation in the heart.

Experts of the scientific committees said one dose of the vaccine could already offer more than 80 per cent effective protection from severe conditions caused by the coronavirus. That is enough to protect youngsters living in Hong Kong, where the risk of Covid-19 infection remains low. The move only covers older children, as Hong Kong does not allow those younger than 12 to receive shots.

However, experts agreed that youngsters heading to places with high Covid-19 risks should still get two doses of the vaccine to boost protection. Before getting their second dose, youngsters should be made aware of the possible risks, which include myopericarditis.

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Professor Lau Yu-lung is chairman of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases. Lau said that about 80 to 90 per cent of instances of heart inflammation emerged within a week of vaccination. One local case was recorded on the 26th day after inoculation.

As of September 16, Hong Kong had seen 37 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis – conditions involving inflammation of tissues around the heart that were typically temporary – in minors following vaccination.

All but five of the patients were boys, and only seven developed the conditions after their second dose. It remains unclear why more adolescent boys developed heart inflammation following vaccination.

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

In Hong Kong, more than 218,000 youngsters aged 12 to 19 have received their second BioNTech vaccine shot while 275,000 have had at least one dose.

Meanwhile, Dr Ho Pak-leung, an infectious diseases expert with the University of Hong Kong, said there were usually four approaches to vaccinating adolescents with the BioNTech vaccine.

These approaches include administering children with two doses, with an interval of 21 to 42 days between the two jabs; extending the interval to two to three months between the two shots; reducing the amount of each vaccine dosage; and offering just a single dose of vaccine.
Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • Why might someone aged 12 to 17 in Hong Kong still need to get two doses of the vaccine?

  • Based on Context, what might you tell peers who have avoided getting vaccinated because they fear the serious side effects?

Table

Examples of countries giving adolescents BioNTech jabs. Photo: SCMP

Question prompts:

  • Describe TWO major features of the table.

  • Which approach do you think might work best for Hong Kong? Explain your answer using Context, News and your own knowledge.

News: New single-jab policy for Hong Kong youth will open door for more face-to-face school classes

Under the new recommendation of the city’s education authorities, more Hong Kong pupils will be able to go back to school. Adolescents now need just one dose of coronavirus vaccine jabs, bringing the 70 per cent inoculation rate required for full-day, in-person classes within easier reach.

Professor Lau Yu-lung, chairman of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, which is behind the recommendation, predicted a more widespread return to school.

“The decision has balanced the benefits and risks of vaccination,” Lau said, referring to the advice that adolescents aged 12 to 17 should now receive just one dose of the BioNTech vaccine to reduce the chance of heart inflammation following inoculation.

The Centre for Health Protection has said that adolescents aged 12 to 17 now only need one dose of the BioNTech vaccine. Photo: Reuters

Lau said he had spoken to education officials about the new advice, adding that more schools could soon host students for full-day classes on campus, once authorities officially counted those with one jab as fully vaccinated.

Under the new Education Bureau policy, schools would be allowed to host full-day classes on campus if 70 per cent of teaching staff and students aged 18 or above were fully vaccinated, and 70 per cent of pupils aged between 12 and 17 were at least single-jabbed.

Those in that age group given one dose could also take part in non-academic activities on campus, even if their schools as a whole did not meet the reopening requirement.

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According to education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, 31 secondary schools had submitted their applications for full-day lessons as of September 20.

Dion Chen, chairman of Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said the new policy could speed up full reopening in some schools by at least three weeks – the recommended time gap after the first jab – from the expected start in late October, to early next month.

“Vaccination rates will also go up as parents and pupils will feel reassured that the worst side effects will now be mitigated ... by not having to take the second shot,” Chen added.
Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • What concerns might the remaining schools that have not applied for full-day classes on campus have, and why?

  • Do you think the “non-academic activities” mentioned in paragraph six should include strenuous exercise? Why or why not? Explain your answer using News and your own knowledge.

Issue: Pfizer seeks approval to administer BioNTech jab to under 12s, but Hong Kong medical professionals are cautious



US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced last Monday they would seek authorisation from the US government to administer their vaccine on children aged five to 11, as recent trials had proven it to be effective. The approval could happen within weeks.

In clinical trials, 2,268 children within this age group were inoculated with about one third of the dosage given to those aged 12 or above. The vaccines generated an immune response that matched what was previously observed in 16- to 25-year-olds. The safety profile was also comparable to that of the older age group.

However, infectious disease expert Leung Chi-chiu said Hong Kong should not be too quick to vaccinate children aged five to 11 despite Pfizer and BioNTech’s announcement, especially as there weren’t currently any outbreaks in the city and children were not at great risk.

In Hong Kong, the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is the only one available to children aged 12 to 17. Photo: AP

“In the trial, only [2,268 children] received the vaccine. We should wait for at least 10,000 or more children in the US to be vaccinated and observe the response,” Leung said.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had yet to approve the idea, he added.

“If we cannot prove that the benefits [of vaccinating under 12s] would outweigh the risks, we should not push the practice too quickly,” Leung said.

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Separately, Pfizer and BioNTech said they planned to share their data with the FDA, the European Medicines Agency and other regulators as soon as possible.

“We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorisation, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“Since July, paediatric cases of Covid-19 have risen by about 240 per cent in the US – underscoring the ... need for vaccination. These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorisation of our vaccine for children five to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency.”
Yanni Chow

Question prompt:

  • Dr Evan Anderson, an associate professor of paediatrics and medicine at Emory University School of Medicine responded to Pfizer and BioNTech’s announcement: “The FDA has the ... [right] to request additional data on study participants or to follow them for a longer period of time before making a decision ... It’s a little speculative to ... get too definitive about timelines at this stage.”

    Does he agree with Leung Chi-chiu’s views? Explain why they might agree or disagree using Issue, Context and your own knowledge.

Glossary

four approaches to vaccinating adolescents: refer to the four ways various governments have taken to vaccinate individuals aged 12 to 17. These include administering all adolescents with two doses, with an interval of 21 to 42 days between the two jabs; just a single dose of vaccine for those aged between 12 and 15; and keeping to two doses but reducing the amount of each by half. Refer to the table to see which countries have adopted these approaches.

single-dose (BioNTech) vaccine: the single-dose policy adopted by the Hong Kong government is applicable only to the BioNTech vaccine, because the Sinovac vaccine is not yet approved in Hong Kong for individuals under 18 years old. Sinovac Biotech, the manufacturer of Sinovac, is expected to release its phase 3 clinical trial data on children in November. The Hong Kong government will decide whether to lower the age requirement for the Sinovac vaccine based on the trial data.

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