Expert advisers to the government on Wednesday changed their guidance on Hong Kong teenagers getting vaccinated against Covid-19, saying they only need one BioNTech jab instead of two.
The change comes after more than 30 teenagers suffered inflammation of the heart as a suspected side effect of the jab, since the government started giving BioNTech vaccine to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 from June.
Professor Lau Yu-lung, who chairs a scientific committee advising the government on its vaccination programme, said latest statistics showed the side effect was more prevalent than originally thought.
He said, therefore, experts decided it’s now better for teenagers to get only one dose, as this would greatly reduce the chance of heart inflammation.
Lau added that given Hong Kong hasn’t had any local Covid-19 cases for some time, one dose of the vaccine should offer adequate protection.
He said the new advice strikes a balance between the vaccine’s risks and benefits.
“At the time the decision was made based on the best available evidence. If you view it in this context, obviously it was not a mistake at that time to recommend two doses,” he said.
“But if you use the current understanding in the context of Hong Kong… we need to have the courage to come out to the public and do the proper risk communication that we’re going to switch from two doses to one dose.”
But Lau said teenagers should get two doses if, for example, they are going to study abroad, for example in Europe or the US, which have seen a lot of Covid-19 infections.
The experts also discussed when the general public as well as immunocompromised people would need a booster shot.
The experts said they needed more information on the matter before making a decision.
David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said another factor they needed to consider was when Hong Kong would lift its border restrictions.
“Currently, we’re doing fine. There’re no cases. But when do we need to live with the virus? We need to be guided. So once we see the light, perhaps two months before opening the border, we start vaccinating the high-risk groups,” he said.
He said the city’s top priority should be giving the jabs to as many elderly people as possible, as the vaccine take-up rate among them is low.