Hong Kong’s vaccination drive gets shot in arm amid rush for jabs as new rules loom, with some fearing restaurant ban equals ‘no meaning in life’

·5-min read

Hong Kong’s Covid-19 vaccination rate received a boost this week as residents, especially the elderly hoping to maintain their dim sum rituals at favourite haunts, as well as concertgoers not wanting to miss coming shows, raced to get their shots ahead of measures that would limit mobility for those who have not been jabbed.

Far more people amid the vaccine rush also opted for the Chinese-produced Sinovac shot than the German-made BioNTech one, with some citing concerns over more side effects from the latter.

On Tuesday, 18,013 people received their first vaccine dose, a four-month high since the 22,933 recorded on September 4 last year.

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“Many people fear the side effects of BioNTech, but both vaccines are safe to take,” infectious disease expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said. “Authorities have the responsibility to clarify myths about the efficacy and side effects of vaccines.”

On Tuesday, crowds were seen at vaccination centres in North Point, Kwun Tong and Sai Wan Ho, with half of the city’s 10 such facilities fully booked for the coming two to three weeks.

The vaccination queue on Tuesday at North Point. Photo: Pak Hei-leung
The vaccination queue on Tuesday at North Point. Photo: Pak Hei-leung

Retired taxi driver Lau Lek-wai, 65, took his first dose on Tuesday at the Kwun Tong centre so he could continue having breakfast daily at a Chinese dim sum restaurant.

“If I am not allowed to have morning dim sum at the restaurant, I will lose the meaning in life and get stuck at home,” said Lau, who was among about 50 people in the vaccination queue. “As an elderly person, I was afraid of heavier side effects, but I have no choice now.”

Tuition teacher Derek Wong, 30, tried in vain for walk-in slots at the centre in Sai Wan Ho.

“I was not motivated to get vaccinated, mostly because there are few to no local Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, and because vaccine technology cannot catch up with the virus’ mutations,” he said. “But now I have no choice and have to eat, right?”

A large proportion of those lining up for shots recently have been the elderly. Photo: Jelly Tse
A large proportion of those lining up for shots recently have been the elderly. Photo: Jelly Tse

On Tuesday morning, with the city on edge over an Omicron coronavirus surge, the government revealed its decision to postpone a vaccine bubble plan that would bar the unvaccinated – except those with medical exemptions – from eateries and schools.

The extended measures were originally set for January 20, but would be pushed back to February 24. The delay was aimed at allowing the catering industry more time for preparation – many restaurant operators were fearful the move would hurt business – and for more residents to get vaccinated.

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Roughly two-thirds of those who received their first vaccine dose on Tuesday picked Sinovac, latest figures in the evening showed. The number of Sinovac recipients at 10,977 was more than double the seven-day average of 5,081, while 7,036 people chose BioNTech, also almost twice the weekly average of 4,040.

At the North Point centre, a 30-year-old woman surnamed Tsang said she chose to get vaccinated so she could still dine at restaurants and go for concerts. She opted for Sinovac because she was “worried about the side effects of BioNTech”.

Some people seeking vaccination say they are now left with no choice as social measures will tighten. Photo: Yik Yeung-man
Some people seeking vaccination say they are now left with no choice as social measures will tighten. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Health expert Leung said the two vaccines were able to protect people from severe complications arising from infection, but would not guarantee immunity.

“Sinovac has fewer side effects while BioNTech has a higher level of protection. People should make their decisions based on their needs and choices,” he said.

Stay-home mother Mary Ma took her first BioNTech jab in the Kwun Tong centre so she could still go ahead with plans for a family gathering at a restaurant on the eve of Lunar New Year, on January 31.

“The government’s vaccine bubble forced me to get the jab; otherwise my daughter will have to cancel the booking which is a special occasion I look forward to very much,” the 55-year-old said.

She said she opted for the BioNTech shot because she believed it was more effective. “The coronavirus keeps changing and I don’t think vaccination is [completely] effective. But compared with Sinovac, BioNTech [has higher efficacy],” Ma said, adding she followed recommendations to the public from a government pandemic adviser.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Infectious diseases expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Leung said vaccination was still needed, especially with the spread of the highly transmissive Omicron variant, and it took time for the body to develop neutralising antibodies.

He called on the government to offer up to two months of allowances to encourage the elderly to get vaccinated, describing the inoculation rate for this age group as “scandalously bad” at 20 per cent for those aged 80 or above. In Britain, that rate has hit 90 per cent.

Hong Kong’s overall first-dose vaccination mark stood at 73.2 per cent, with the rate for the second dose at 69.5 per cent, and about 6.5 per cent for the third dose, according to Tuesday figures.

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Still, there were those who were firmly against vaccination.

Elaine Chu, a 28-year-old writer, voiced cynicism over the jabs, and has not signed up for the drive.

“The government is trying to jack up the vaccination rate through the vaccine bubble, but why can’t we make our own choices on having meals at restaurants, the most basic thing in our lives?” she said.

Chu said she would cook meals at home once the new rules kicked in, but predicted she would probably cave in to pressure once all her friends were vaccinated, excluding her from social gatherings.

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