Vaccine backtrack a PR backfire

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 Dec 2020

If Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor keeps her promise, it's very likely that the vaccine she and her ministers will secure will be the one developed by mainland pharmaceutical Sinovac. That's because its shipment is expected soon, while delivery of Fosun/BioNTech will follow in the first quarter.

That's the presumed order.

However, if the BioNTech vaccine gets approval before Sinovac, Lam and her team will have no choice but to receive the half-Chinese product.

Initially, the government kept referring to the BioNTech vaccine - of which it has secured 7.5 million doses - as the Pfizer/BioNTech version. But hours later it issued a midnight press release to clarify that it is actually the Fosun/BioNTech version manufactured in Europe.

The agreement between mainland pharmaceutical Fosun Pharma and German laboratory BioNTech has limited Hong Kong's choice. Fosun is the sole distributor in the Greater China region for the vaccine developed by the company using BioNTech's mRNA technology that has to be stored and transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Does the development and distribution agreement infer that Taiwan will have to procure it from Fosun if it wants to access the BioNTech vaccine?

The application of vaccines must be 100 percent based on scientific evidence, not politics. If the Fosun/BioNTech proves to be just as sound as others for medical use, it should be considered as a good vaccine.

In hindsight, it was unnecessary to keep referring to it as the Pfizer/BioNTech version at the government press conference in the first place. The PR strategy backfired, leading to some taking the view that even government officials lacked confidence in the Fosun product.

News of the vaccine procurement could have been revealed earlier had Lam not been expected to go to Beijing for her year-end duty report.

Keeping the news until after her return would have given the perception that the trip was a success. But now the word on the grapevine is that the trip is not going ahead as scheduled.

Nevertheless, it was still good to hear the administration giving out more details of its vaccine roadmap.

Secretary for Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee should now ramp up public confidence in all the vaccines in her shopping basket.

Is it all plain sailing after this? Obviously not.

The pandemic will be tamed only after a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, and this will take a while to achieve. For the time being, vigilance is still needed to keep it at bay.

The sad news of the death of a 42-year-old woman reminds us of the need for continued caution.

While Hongkongers will not be the first to receive any of the vaccines, the silver lining is that any side effects will become better known by the time they are delivered to us.

At least, the road to recovery is within sight.

As the wait continues and hope rises, could more be done to enhance vigilance? While a territory-wide lockdown is ruled out, is there any middle ground between the current approaches and a total lockdown?

As we hope for the best, we must continue to prepare for the worst.

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