- PUBLISHED JAN 18, 2021, 6:58 PM SGT
HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – A panel of experts said they have recommended that Hong Kong approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use, clearing the way for a regulatory greenlight as the city tries to stamp out a winter outbreak that appears to be worsening.
It is the first vaccine on track for approval in the Asian financial city, which likely means that the vulnerable groups which the government has prioritised such as healthcare workers and the elderly will receive this shot.
The vaccine is being marketed by Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
In a sign of growing global concern over reports of vaccine-related deaths in Norway, the panel is seeking more information from Norwegian authorities and Fosun, and will ask the government to stop administering the shot “as soon as we receive information that tips the balance ratio of risks and benefits”, said Mr Wallace Lau, the panel’s convenor, at a press briefing on Monday (Jan 18).
The panel also wants more information on which groups to prioritise in administering the vaccine, said Mr Lau. Although most countries are planning to vaccinate their elderly first, the Norway deaths indicate that the side effects or allergies from the shot may be potentially deadly in the old and frail.
After the endorsement by the 12-person vaccine advisory panel, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan will make a final decision on approving the vaccine for use. Officials said that the city’s vaccine roll-out will start around the Chinese New Year holiday, which this year begins on Feb 12.
Hong Kong’s government said it has purchased enough doses – including from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Britain’s AstraZeneca – to cover its 7.5 million residents, and plans to offer people a choice of which vaccine to take, though that also depends on availability.
Chinese health experts call to suspend Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine for elderly after Norwegian deaths
By Zhang Hui Published: Jan 15, 2021 01:58 PM
Chinese health experts called on Norway and other countries to suspend the use of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines produced by companies such as Pfizer, especially among elderly people, due to the vaccines’ safety uncertainties following the deaths of 23 elderly Norwegian people who received the vaccine.
The new mRNA vaccine was developed in haste and had never been used on a large scale for the prevention of infectious disease, and its safety had not been confirmed for large-scale use in humans, a Chinese immunologist said.
The death incidents in Norway also proved that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy was not as good as expected, experts said.
Chinese experts said the death incident should be assessed cautiously to understand whether the death was caused by vaccines or other preexisting conditions of these individuals.
Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist from Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Friday that the death incident, if proven to be caused by the vaccines, showed that the effect of the Pfizer vaccine and other mRNA vaccines is not as good as expected, as the main purpose of mRNA vaccines is to heal patients.
The mRNA vaccines teach human cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response; then, the immune response can protect people from getting infected if the real virus enters the body.
Meanwhile, toxic substances may be developed throughout the process of mRNA vaccinations; thus, the safety of vaccines cannot be fully ensured, Yang said.
But that’s not the case for inactivated vaccines in China, which have more mature technology, Yang said.
A Beijing-based immunologist, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Friday that the world should suspend the use of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine represented by Pfizer, as this new technology has not proven safety in large-scale use or in preventing any infectious diseases.
Older people, especially those over 80, should not be recommended to receive any COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
He said that people over 80 years old have a weaker immune system and are more prone to adverse effect; thus, they should be recommended to take medicines to improve their immune system, he said.
China has started vaccination for people aged between 18 and 59, as statistics on people aged 60 years and over and people aged 18 years and below were relatively small during clinical trials of the vaccines. Thus, we cannot fully identify the efficacy and side effects for these two groups, a Beijing-based health expert who requested to be anonymous, told the Global Times.