HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s top health official said on Friday the government had not politicised any coronavirus vaccine, as she sought to reassure residents worried about China’s Sinovac, due to be rolled out in the global financial hub from next week.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan told Reuters that standards had not been lowered to accept the Sinovac vaccine and there was no pressure from Beijing to get it approved in the Chinese-ruled city.
“The government has not politicised any vaccine. In fact, we really think that one should not politicise any of the vaccination process, because really the COVID-19 vaccine is our hope,” she said in an interview at her office.
Hong Kong formally approved Sinovac for emergency use on Thursday with the public rollout starting on Feb 26.
One million doses of the vaccine arrived from Beijing in the former British colony on Friday afternoon.
Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents will be able to get vaccinated at 29 centres across the city with 5 offering Sinovac and 24 offering Pfizer/Biontech vaccines, due to arrive before the end of February, Chan said.
“If people have worries, then they can choose the vaccine of their choice,” she said.
Anti-mainland sentiment has risen in Hong Kong since 2019 when protesters took to the streets to push back against what they see as Beijing’s growing attempts to tighten its grip over the territory.
A January survey by the University of Hong Kong found that fewer than 30% of people questioned said they would accept the Sinovac vaccine.
Hong Kong’s government said in early February that it was exempting Sinovac from publishing results of its third phase clinical trials in medical journals due to the “urgency” for vaccination.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – the first approved by Hong Kong’s Health department – was required to have published results in a medical journal before being examined by the government’s advisory panel.
Fosun Pharma is the partner for distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong. Batches of 1 million doses of the vaccine would be sent from Germany every month, while Sinovac would also send batches on a near monthly basis, Chan said.
“We are planning within 2021 that the vaccines can be available to all the Hong Kong people,” she said.
Hong Kong’s vaccination programme has lagged other developed cities and is far behind mainland China, which started its vaccine program in July last year. Hong Kong has a separate approval process from the mainland for vaccines.
Hong Kong has secured a total of 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.
Chan said the AstraZeneca vaccine was due around midyear but there had been no discussion as to how many doses would be initially supplied.
Hong Kong has recorded around 10,800 cases since last January and 197 deaths. The city eased some coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, re-opening sports facilities and extending dining hours to 10 p.m. from 6 p.m.
Chan said that the government was reviewing what benefits and incentives people could get once vacinated, with regards to traveling and a shorter quarantine period.
Hong Kong requires compulsory 21-day hotel quarantine for all arrivals apart from mainland China.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree, John Stonestreet and Raju Gopalakrishnan)