Third-jab timetable on way

Top News | Jane Cheung and Carine Chow 13 Oct 2021

Jane Cheung and Carine Chow

A booster shot for people aged 60 and above who received mainland-made Covid-19 vaccines is being planned following new World Health Organization guidelines, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

She will meet with government advisers on its timetable.

This comes as Hong Kong has donated 7.5 million doses of the British-made AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to WHO's Covax facility to be distributed to 92 low-income countries.

The SAR has already secured 15 million doses of Beijing-made Sinovac and German-made BioNTech/Fosun shots sufficient for the 7.5 million Hong Kong population.

The WHO has advised governments to provide a third jab of Covid-19 vaccine to people aged 60 and above who have received Covid-19 vaccines from mainland brands Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Both vaccines use the inactivated Covid-19 coronavirus to stimulate the immune system to generate antibodies but WHO said the protection in those above 59 fades with time. The age group should be given a third jab of the same brand one to three months after the second dose.

The WHO also advised a third jab to people with weaker immunity, including those who have recovered from cancer, received organ transplants and patients with HIV/Aids.

Speaking before the Executive Council meeting yesterday, Lam said she has heard the WHO's advice, which involved the Sinovac jab also available in Hong Kong. She will invite the four pandemic advisers and more experts from its advisory panels on Covid-19 vaccines to discuss when and who should be offered a third dose.

But one of her advisers and top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, from the University of Hong Kong, said it is meaningless to discuss inoculation of booster shots for elderly citizens as the jab coverage in seniors is low.

"It's more important to make sure most people have taken the first two jabs before we study arrangements of the third jab," he said.

So far, more than 4.54 million, or 66 percent, of the city's 6.84 million population above 12, have received at least one dose. However the coverage in those above 60 is less than 39 percent.

Respiratory disease specialist Leung Chi-chiu said elderly people aged 60 or above, chronically ill or high-risk groups, including workers at the airport, quarantine hotels and hospitals that can come into close contact with potential Covid-19 patients, should be prioritized to take a third dose.

"If they have taken their second jab six months ago, they should take the third shot," he said, as vaccine protection will be lowered.

Leung also said the booster dose should be administered to these high-risk individuals before winter, which is usually the peak season for flu outbreaks and hospitals become overloaded.

While citizens should take the third jab with the same brand as the previous two, Leung said this might not be the case for those with immune problems, as they might have to mix vaccines to include those with a higher efficacy to stimulate the production of more antibodies.

At least 11 mainland provinces and cities, including Fujian, Heilongjiang and Hainan, have begun administering its people with booster jabs, targeting those who have completed both doses of the deactivated virus vaccine or the one-jab China-made CanSino vaccine for more than six months.

On the AstraZeneca vaccine, it was originally the city's third option as authorities did not want to put all eggs in one basket. But they scrapped use of the brand after countries, including Japan, reported cases of rare blood clots in young recipients

The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, said yesterday the donation was a contribution to global efforts to end the pandemic, but she did not reveal how much the vaccines cost.

Separately, gym goers can work out without masks if all staff and users of their fitness center have completed both doses, and the cap for group classes is raised to 12 from tomorrow.

Other social distancing measures will be extended for two weeks until October 27.

Hong Kong yesterday saw four imported cases and an 18-year-old local man who flew to the United Kingdom on October 1 tested positive after arrival. His residential building at Block 7, King's Park Villa in Ho Man Tin, has been added to the mandatory test list.

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