Platform to ease fears on side effects

Top News | Wallis Wang 23 Feb 2021

The Department of Health has set up a platform to monitor serious adverse reactions following vaccinations and is encouraging medical staff to report such incidents to authorities as soon as possible.

Serious or unexpected adverse reactions after vaccinations, including death, facial paralysis and other serious diseases, can be reported from Friday, said the department's chief pharmacist, Edwin Lam Fung-shing, which is the day Covid vaccinations are due to begin.

Lam said an expert committee on clinical events assessments following vaccination will analyze the cause of such adverse reactions and decide if they were caused by the vaccines.

The factors experts will consider include temporal relationships, such as the date of vaccination and when side effects emerged, biological plausibility and other possible reasons for the symptoms.

Lam said the committee will also contact vaccine manufacturers to see if similar symptoms have appeared in clinical trials and refer to statistics from the World Health Organization.

Assistant director of health Frank Chan Ling-fung said people with adverse reactions can receive compensation from a HK$1 billion indemnity fund if the committee cannot rule out the possibility of a vaccine link.

Statistics on adverse reactions will be updated on the government's website at regularly, and the first batch of data is expected to be published around mid-March, Chan said.

The department will review vaccine safety from time to time and update vaccine labels and descriptions and consider revoking authorization for a vaccine if experts believe the risks outweigh the benefits.

The committee's coconvener, Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, said the vaccination program is voluntary, but appealed to the public to get the jab as soon as possible.

Hung, who is also chief of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, said it would take years to achieve herd immunity.

"Achieving herd immunity is not as simple as getting a number of people vaccinated and increasing the protection rate of the vaccines," he said. "I believe people will still have to wear masks for a few years."

That came as a HKU team launched a three-year program to monitor the safety of Covid vaccines using big data analysis to find out if the vaccine causes an increasing incidence of serious diseases.

Ian Wong Chi-kei, head of pharmacology and pharmacy, said researchers will invite those who have been vaccinated to join the program and contact them after vaccination.

They will then monitor the onset of serious diseases, if any.

The team aims to invite 1,500 volunteers for each type of vaccine, including the Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines.

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