Hong Kong will open its COVID-19 vaccine scheme to children aged 12 and above for the first time, the government said on Thursday, as it pursues a broader campaign across the city to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated.
Children of that age group will be able to get Germany’s BioNTech vaccine, but residents still have to be older than 18 to receive China’s Sinovac shot.
The Chinese special administrative region started its COVID-19 vaccination programme in February but only around 14% of the population have been fully vaccinated.
In a statement published on Thursday, the city’s Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the benefits of reducing the age of vaccination with the BioNTech vaccine outweighed the risks. It comes as other countries have also moved to vaccinate younger adolescents.
“It can not only protect young people from the new coronavirus infection, it also helps them to return to normal campus and daily life as soon as possible,” said Chan.
The city has largely controlled the virus with around 11,800 infections and 210 deaths, with the majority of residents choosing to delay vaccinations. It widened the scheme to include those aged over 16 years old in April.
The government has over the past week piled pressure on businesses and financial institutions to encourage vaccinations and urged them to grant employees a day off for each jab.
Full page advertisements in major newspapers on Wednesday instructed citizens to get vaccinated “ASAP” and highlighted vaccination leave, dining offers and other rewards.
Hong Kong’s financial regulators told banks, brokers and asset managers to identify staff in key roles who would receive a COVID-19 vaccine, while a private sports club told staff to get vaccinated or be denied future bonuses, promotions and pay rises according to an internal staff memo.
The government has also relaxed some coronavirus rules, such as shortened quarantine time for vaccinated residents, as worries over adverse reactions and a lack of confidence in the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine has hit vaccine demand.
Residents are allowed to choose between the Sinovac or BioNTech vaccine, but there remains a surplus of unused vaccines for both, the government said.
To avoid wastage, Hong Kong may donate vaccines or cancel future batches, moves which could hinder future orders, authorities said on May 25.
Photo: A woman wears a face mask and rubber gloves while riding the tram in Hong Kong, China. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE