Elderly home residents, staff and disabled should be first in line for jabs

Business | Jane Cheung 22 Jan 2021

Residents and staff at homes for the elderly and the disabled should be the first in Hong Kong to get Covid-19 vaccinations, experts advise.

They should be followed by medical workers and those aged above 60 and then people aged from 16 to 59 suffering from chronic illnesses.

The recommendations on priority were reached in a meeting involving the Department of Health's two scientific committees and four government advisers on Covid-19.

And the government vaccine advisory panel also recommended on Monday that the Food and Health Bureau should approve the registration for emergency use of the European-made BioNTech/Fosun and the Britain's Oxford/AstraZeneca types.

The BioNTech/Fosun vaccine is expected to arrive in Hong Kong late next month, with inoculations to start soon after that. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in mid-year.

Government officials earlier reached advance purchase agreements with BioNTech/Fosun, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Beijing's Sinovac. All of their vaccines require two doses administered from two to 12 weeks apart.

The committees also said vaccinations should be completed with shots from the same brand.

But the recommendations announced yesterday only focused on the BioNTech and Oxford vaccines while the Sinovac one was not discussed due to insufficient clinical information.

It had been announced initially that the first batch of a million Sinovac doses would be arriving this month, but the company has yet to submit its application for registration for emergency use in Hong Kong after the vaccine efficacy rate was last week revealed to be a low 50 percent in its largest late-stage clinical trial in Brazil.

The vaccine flurry came as Hong Kong yesterday reported 70 new Covid-19 cases had been found, and five more buildings were added to the list of those that require residents undergoing mandatory tests.

The buildings included two in the Yau Ma Tei-Jordan area - 121 Woosung Street and 7-10 Ferry Street, each with one unit infected.

The other three are Tak Yam House at On Yam Estate in Kwai Chung and Block 2 of Charming Garden in Mong Kok, which each had three units infected, and Block 5 of Laguna City in Lam Tin with two units infected.

The head of the Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said the fresh cases yesterday were made up of 63 local, including 16 from unknown sources, and seven imported.

Thirty-one of the 70 live in Yau Tsim Mong, with 14 in the designated area bounded by Nathan Road, Kansu Street, Ferry Street and Jordan Road.

The cases took the SAR's tally to 9,868, with 167 deaths.

More than 40 preliminary positive patients are also awaiting confirmation of test results, including 11 from the Yau Ma Tei-Jordan area.

One is an 80-year-old resident of a care home in Sheung On Mansion in Battery Street. All its 21 residents and six staffers were to go into quarantine. Authorities are also following up on the case of a Nepalese family of three from Jordan.

They were confirmed with Covid-19 at a hospital shortly after they tested negative in community centers and mobile specimen collection centers, causing questions about the testing routine.

Officials then turned to the Hospital Authority and test contractors Molecular Pathology Diagnostic Centre and KingMed Diagnostics (Hong Kong) for more information and asked government adviser Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong to look into the matter.

Meanwhile, a biotech company responsible for Sham Shui Po tests proposed using an antigen rapid test on residents in districts with the worst outbreaks on top of conventional tests to speed up the process.

Phase Scientific has used the rapid test on 9,000 people since last month and found it to be reliable, with 93 percent of those tested positive in the rapid test confirmed with Covid-19.

It said preliminary positive cases can be reported to the Department of Health within an hour compared to a day or more for conventional tests at laboratories, so people can also be sent to hospital isolation sooner to avoid spreading the virus in the community.

The company's founder, Ricky Chiu Yin-to, also suggested antigen rapid tests can be used as regular tests for high risk groups such as taxi drivers and in surveillance for attendees of mass events.

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