Hong Kong will set up 18 community vaccination centers — one in every district — to each handle at least 2,000 residents a day as the city prepares to administer the Covid-19 shot developed by (BNTX)BioNTech SE and PFE US Equity”/>Pfizer Inc. as early as the end of February.
These centers will only handle the BioNTech vaccine, while the other two shots the city has ordered — from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and (AZN) LN Equity”/>AstraZeneca Plc — will be distributed to private hospitals and clinics, according to Thomas Tsang, a member of Hong Kong’s vaccination program task force.
The separate distribution is to avoid mixing up the vaccines, as the BioNTech shot needs to be handled at colder temperatures than the others. Hong Kong will allow people to choose their vaccine, though Sinovac and AstraZeneca’s shots won’t be available immediately since they haven’t cleared the city’s regulatory process.
The details come as Hong Kong adopts a “very careful” inoculation approach, opting for a smooth rollout rather than a speedy one to avoid any problems with supplies or possible surge in hospitalization.
Hong Kong Leaders ‘Not in a Hurry’ to Roll Out Covid-19 Vaccines
“Our priority really is to have an organized program,” Tsang said in an interview Tuesday. “We try to do it as smoothly as possible, because that’s important to build public confidence. We surely don’t want something unexpected or some logistic hiccups.”
Unlike some pandemic hotspots such as London and New York, where governments are racing to inoculate their populations as quickly as possible to bring surging cases under control, Hong Kong can afford a more cautious pace. Its Covid-19 infections haven’t risen as drastically, with strict social-distancing rules keeping local cases to a few dozen daily.
Why Many Asian Countries Are Being Cautious on Vaccines
Hong Kong won’t start jabbing its citizens until the end of February at the earliest. In an effort to prevent overburdening the city’s hospitals, Hong Kong may not vaccinate all elderly citizens and nursing homes at once, instead approaching such high-risk residents in stages.
“Once they’ve got fever, a lot of times they have to be admitted to hospital for observation,” said Tsang, former head of the Centre for Health Protection who got the nickname “superdetective” after leading a team to track the source of the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. “We don’t want suddenly a surge of elderly home residents going to hospital.”
Officials also won’t follow the lead taken by the UK., which drained its entire initial vaccine supply on first doses, and then had to wait for more batches to give out second doses, Tsang said. A lack of supplies has emerged as one of the biggest glitches for governments trying to inoculate their citizens.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday said she has asked China to supply more inoculations because of a “hiccup” with the city’s other vaccine orders. An earlier report said Lam was seeking shots developed by Sinopharm, which currently doesn’t have a vaccine contract with Hong Kong.
Tsang said the BioNTech vaccines, which this week became the first to be approved by Hong Kong, will arrive in batches of 1 million to 1 1/2 million doses every month, though the first batch won’t arrive until the end of February. Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., which is marketing the vaccine in the Greater China region, said Tuesday that the vaccines will be shipped directly from Germany and stored in low-temperature warehouses before being delivered to inoculation sites.
The other two vaccines haven’t submitted all the required data for starting the approval process, Tsang said.
“We expect Sinovac to submit the complete clinical trial data with all the details included,” said Tsang. “Right now, we only have bits of pieces from officials in different places, but these are not up to our scientific standard. That’s a crucial bit of information that is missing — and the same for AstraZeneca.”
The government hasn’t set a timeline for the rollout, Tsang said. But he hopes high-risk groups such as the elderly and health-care workers can be vaccinated within half a year or earlier.
“We need to roll it out first and see what happens before we come up with some concrete idea of what target are we going to make,” said Tsang. “Definitely, we’re in for a wild ride.”