Jabs for pupils won't be child's play

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Jun 2021

Apparently, vaccine chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen is pinning high hopes on pupils getting Covid inoculations after experts lowered the age limit for receiving BioNTech jabs from 16 to 12 in line with international moves.

As do parents who are desperate to see normal classes resume after summer - that is, in-person and not on Zoom.

But Nip must be aware that this is still highly uncertain given that only 17 percent of the Hong Kong population is fully vaccinated and fewer than one in five teachers have visited one of the vaccination centers for one dose or two.

It will be another tough task to persuade parents to give their consent because many are themselves hesitant.

That said, everyone must be encouraged to go for the jabs, including the elderly and children of suitable ages.

Hong Kong is rather peculiar in that only 3 percent of residents at elderly homes have been fully vaccinated.

This fact has so upset Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong the other day that he made an outburst about it while comparing it with the UK.

Law's anger was misplaced because the low vaccination rate at elderly homes is due to a government policy discouraging the elderly getting the vaccines.

This is at odds with the UK practice where the elderly and people suffering from chronic illnesses were among the first to receive the shots.

It is hoped that, as the government extends the vaccination program to pupils, it is not going to repeat the policy blunder.

Parents are keen to see children live normal school lives in the new school year and are willing to cooperate as soon as their concerns are answered.

It will be helpful if Nip can this week announce the vaccination program for schoolchildren in length.

Most critical of all, the program must be convenient.

According to Nip, pupils may receive the jabs by visiting community centers themselves or in organized trips from schools. Alternatively, dedicated teams may be dispatched to schools to give the shots, which should be the most convenient.

Undoubtedly, there are moral issues involved in lowering the age limit.

For example, children are mostly unaffected even if they are infected and the benefits to them are not as great as for other age groups.

There is also the question: due to limited vaccine supplies, should those set aside for children be redistributed to meet more urgent needs elsewhere?

These moral issues will not affect any government's decision - not in the US, UK and European Union, let alone Hong Kong - as there is also the argument that vaccinating pupils helps protect the elderly and vulnerable.

But Nip has an additional hurdle to overcome locally.

While BioNTech is approved to be used on pupils as young as 12, some Hongkongers may want their children to be vaccinated with Sinovac.

Nip will have to win over these diehards unless he plans to include Sinovac soon.

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