HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public Friday, kicking off its program that will eventually offer free vaccinations to all 7.5 million residents.
People age 60 and older and health care workers are among the some 2.4 million people currently prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong. The government said registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.
Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.
A poll published in January by the University of Hong Kong found that a majority of respondents in the city concerned about the Chinese vaccine's efficacy.
“I don’t think I’ll get the vaccine for the time being. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach," said Ken Cheung, a Hong Kong resident.
"I would like to see if others experience any side-effects after the injection. I’ll only consider the vaccine only when I’m sure that it has a high efficacy rate and no side-effect.”
Billy Au, a resident in his 60s, had no such concerns and was inoculated on Friday
“I’m never hesitant to receive the vaccination because I believe that there are many people in China who have received Chinese vaccines. I don’t see why I shouldn’t take it,” he said.
A panel of Hong Kong experts said the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine after two doses, 21 days apart, was 62.3%. In contrast, a study in Israel found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 92% effectiveness.
Hong Kong has since struck deals to buy a total of 22.5 million doses of vaccines, with 7.5 million shots each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to the city.
The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The first million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been slated to arrive Thursday but was delayed by export procedures, the government said in a statement.
“The latest scheduled arrival date is tomorrow, so we hope that the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong as scheduled,” Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s civil service minister, said at a news briefing Friday.
He said such a short delay was unlikely to impact the vaccination rollout.
Another 200,000 vaccination slots will be open for booking Monday next week, Nip said.