COVID-19 Vaccines in Hong Kong: Options, Safety & Costs (UPDATED)
October 11, 2021
There is currently an explosion of information, comments and opinions on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media. We believe that on serious topics in general, and on public health matters in particular, it is essential that you rely on facts and credible, expert information. Our mission at Alea is to bring you the best possible information and advice, so you can make the best choices for you and your family.
Which COVID-19 vaccine are being made available in Hong Kong? Are they safe? How much do they cost? Our Alea team has done all the research, and brings you this practical guide with all the latest information.
For a full Chinese guide about COVID-19 Vaccines in Hong Kong, please click here.
Which COVID-19 vaccine is available in Hong Kong?
The Hong Kong government has chosen to procure 3 out of more than 10 COVID-19 vaccines:
- The Sinovac Biotech (Hong Kong Limited) CoronaVac vaccine based on an inactivated virus.
- The Fosun Pharma in collaboration with the German drug manufacturer BioNTech (BNT162b2) vaccine using mRNA technology.
- The AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) vaccine using a non-replicating viral vector (government announced to suspend shipments for 2021).
In December 2020, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government had reached advance purchase agreements with all 3 manufacturers (i.e. Sinovac Biotech, BioNTech-Fosun Pharma and AstraZeneca-Oxford) that will supply all Hong Kong residents with a vaccine. The government said that these vaccines were chosen based on scientific evidence and that officials will continue sourcing safe and effective vaccines from other manufacturers. In April 2021, however, the government decided to suspend the order from AstraZeneca-Oxford until further notice due to a rare complication possibly associated with the vaccination.
The availability of each vaccine will depend on the vaccination location. It is expected that each Community Vaccination Centre location will only use 1 vaccine (view the list here).
|Provider||Sinovac Biotech||BioNTech-Fosun Pharma|
|Vaccine name||CoronaVac||Tozinameran (Comirnaty)|
|Vaccine type||Inactivated viral||mRNA-based|
|Doses to be provided||7.5 million||7.5 million|
|Efficacy||50.4% to 65.3%||95%|
Are these COVID-19 vaccines safe?
Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that it is the right call of the government to select Sinovac Biotech's vaccine because it shows “promising first and second trial data”. He indicated that although the China-based biopharmaceutical company has not yet published the third stage data, it does not mean that the data will be bad.
As of February 18, 2021, the Sinovac Biotech vaccine has been authorized for emergency use in Hong Kong. The Sinovac Biotech vaccine was the first COVID-19 vaccine used in Hong Kong in accordance with the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme that started on February 26, 2021.
Later, the WHO validated the Sinovac COVID vaccine for emergency use on June 1, approving its safety, efficacy and manufacturing standards. The vaccine has been approved for use in 25 countries so far and is yet to be approved in major developed countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, etc.
As for BioNTech-Fosun Pharma, except in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan where the German biotech company BioNTech has partnered with the Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma, BioNTech has partnered with the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer to provide COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
As part of the BioNTech-Fosun Pharma collaboration, BioNTech is responsible for the development and manufacture of its mRNA-based vaccine while Fosun Pharma focuses on the aspects of clinical trials, regulatory applications, sales and marketing.
Over the last 12 years, BioNTech has developed vast expertise in the mRNA vaccine field. Funded by the German government, the research and development of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine by the collective effects of BioNTech and Pfizer have achieved favorable results. The vaccine was found to be safe with 95% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 through a randomized trial with 43,548 participants. However, 2 healthcare workers in the UK experienced anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction) to the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. Following these events, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency issued precautionary advice that people “with a history of anaphylaxis to a vaccine, medicine or food” should not be given the vaccine.
Click here to read the research of the Tozinameran vaccine (also known as the Comirnaty vaccine) for phase 3 trial, published in a respected medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine and/or read the Comirnaty Fact Sheet.
Online bookings for the BioNTech-Fosun vaccines open on Wednesday 3 March. Priority residents will be the first in the city to receive this vaccine, from 10 March onwards. About 63,000 jabs will be distributed to about 830 private clinics in Hong Kong.
On 24 March 2021, the Government temporarily suspended COVID-19 vaccinations of a BioNTech batch due to packaging defects, within an hour after the Macau government did. For safety concerns, all BioNTech vaccines would be sealed immediately after the manufacturer notified the HKSAR government of the issue in the morning. After a week of investigation, vaccination resumed on 5 April as the production process and vaccine quality were found to be intact, and the defect was attributed to transport conditions.
AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine was found “to have an acceptable safety profile and to be efficacious against symptomatic COVID-19” through an interim analysis of ongoing clinical trials involving 11,636 participants. Note that there were 175 severe adverse events that occurred in 168 participants.
Note: Amid concerns over possible cases of blood clots after vaccination, Health Secretary Sophia Chan announced on 9 April that shipments of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines, which were expected to arrive later this year, will be delayed. The government ordered 7.5 million doses from AstraZeneca but the order will be suspended. In addition, the government are considering purchasing a new type of vaccine with better protection.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has not yet been submitted an application for emergency use in Hong Kong.
*Important: As COVID-19 vaccines are newly developed, there is no available research yet about COVID-19 vaccines on specific populations (e.g. pregnant women, children, breastfeeding women)._ No vaccine is 100% safe _and therefore it is crucial to disclose your health conditions to your doctor in order to decide whether to get vaccinated and minimize the risks brought by vaccination.
The Hong Kong COVID-19 Vaccination Programme
The COVID-19 Vaccination Programme started at the end of February 2021. Through this booking system, eligible individuals will be able to make an appointment for vaccination with the CoronaVac (by Sinovac Biotech) at a location of their preference.
The goal of this programme is to provide vaccines for a total of around 7.5 million Hong Kong residents within 2021. Members of the public will be given the choice on whether to get vaccinated. As the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong batch by batch, the government will prioritize vulnerable groups and high-risk groups (e.g. elderlies, healthcare workers) with a reference to the characteristics of the vaccines. More details of the vaccination programme will be announced in due course.
Citizens over 60, healthcare staff and others who belong to the priority groups as specified may receive vaccination from 26 February.
From 16 March onwards, online booking will be available to citizens aged over 30, domestic helpers and students aged over 16 who are in education overseas, as well as personnel qualifying for the specified categories.
The government further extended the eligibility on 15 April to include the age group 16-29 in Hong Kong. From 23 April, residents aged above 16 can book online for a BioNTech vaccine, whereas those above 18 can also choose the Sinovac vaccine.
From May 28, Mainland residents holding an Exit-entry Permit can receive the jab by presenting their Exit-entry Permit and landing slips when they book an appointment online.
BioNTech has been approved for vaccination in teenagers aged 12- 15 from June 14 onwards. Teenagers in this age group may book a timeslot on the government's thematic website from June 11.
Other visitors in Hong Kong with a valid travel document can make a vaccination appointment by presenting their travel documents and landing slips or extension of stay labels at any post office from July 6.
This programme means that you will get injected with COVID-19 vaccines via the public health sector.
As for the private sector, since BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines must be stored in temperatures of minus-70 degrees Celsius, Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan said that perhaps only the public sector may be able to arrange injections for its vaccines.
With regard to the storage temperature of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines and AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccines, Professor Chan said that arrangements can be made for private doctors to help give injections of those vaccines.
To book an appointment go to https://www.covidvaccine.gov.hk/en/ and click on the "Book Vaccination" in the top right corner. This will redirect you to the online booking system. You may enter the virtual waiting room before you can book your slot.
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When are COVID-19 vaccines available in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong was initially set to receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines as early as January 2021, but this was delayed due to issues with securing the vaccines from the manufacturers.
The first batches of the CoronaVac (by Sinovac Biotech) arrived at the end of February 2021, swiftly following the vaccine’s authorisation for emergency use in Hong Kong that was granted on February 18, 2021.
The first batch of Tozinameran (by BioNTech-Fosun Pharma) arrived at the end of February 2021 and was put into use in the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme on March 10.
The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (by AstraZeneca-Oxford) will not be delivered to Hong Kong in 2021.
Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Hong Kong?
As of 26 February 2021, eligible individuals can receive the Sinovac vaccine at any of the 5 Community Vaccination Centres (CVCs) or at any of the 18 general out-patient clinics of the HA (after making an appointment via the online booking system).
Once Hong Kong receives more vaccines, the distribution of the vaccine will eventually be through 4 channels:
- A total of 29 Community Vaccination Centres (CVCs) in the 18 districts across the territory
- Over 1,500 private clinics participating in the programme
- 18 general out-patient clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA)
- Residential care homes for the elderly and for persons with disabilities
Who will be vaccinated first in Hong Kong?
Like many other countries, Hong Kong will receive the vaccine in batches. Therefore, the government has set up a vaccination strategy that prioritizes certain groups of the population to receive the vaccine first.
The priority groups is as follows:
- First priority: Residents and staff of residential care homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities as well as other institutional facilities;
- Second priority: Workers in health-care settings, workers in other essential services who are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, and persons aged 60 years or above; and
- Third priority: Persons with chronic medical problems aged between 16 and 59 years.
New priority groups applicable from March 16 onwards:
- Persons aged 30-59
- Domestic helpers
- Students aged over 16 who are in education overseas
- Other personnel specified by the Government
From April 23 onwards, the age group eligible for the vaccination programme is extended to include people aged 16-29. After the extension, all residents aged 16 or above can book a vaccination via the online system.
The government further extended eligibility for the vaccination programme to include teenagers aged between 12-15, who may book their BioNTech jab on the government's thematic website from June 11 onwards. Vaccination for the age group will commence on June 14. Please note that any persons under 18 need to present parental consent before receiving the vaccine.
These priority groups have been established based on the recommendations of expert advisory panels, published data on the COVID-19 vaccines that have been procured by the government, local data, and overseas recommendations and practices.
When attending your vaccination appointment, you should bring along your staff card, warrant card, identity proof issued by Government departments and their service contractors, license and/or employer's letter to prove you belong to the priority group.
How much does a COVID-19 vaccine cost?
If you are a Hong Kong resident with a valid HKID, you can join the large-scale COVID-19 vaccination program and it will be free of charge.
For now, there is no information on whether the Hong Kong government will provide vaccines to people who are not Hong Kong residents, nor to hospitals for purchase by the general public.
Note: According to WHO, research is still ongoing regarding how strong a COVID-19 vaccine’s protection is and how long it lasts. Researchers believe that booster shots of the existing COVID-19 vaccines will be needed so as to stay protected. University of Hong Kong infectious disease expert Pak Leung Ho said that people have to be vaccinated with the same type of COVID-19 vaccine twice for the development of immunity, but getting injected every year may not be needed.
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This article was independently written by Alea and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and should never be relied upon for specific advice.