Hundreds of thousands of doses of BioNTech vaccine are sitting unused in the southern Chinese special administrative region due to widespread vaccination skepticism among the Hong Kong population. In an urgent appeal Tuesday, a member of the State Immunization Commission pointed to the limited shelf life of the vaccine. "They cannot be used after the expiration date, and BioNTech vaccination centers will stop working from the end of September according to the previous plan," Thomas Tsang told radio station RTHK.
Citizens who have not yet booked a vaccination appointment for the BioNTech vaccine have only three months left to opt in, Tsang said. It is "simply not fair" that unused doses are piling up in Hong Kong while other regions around the world are desperate for Sars-CoV-2 vaccine, he said. Some Hong Kong politicians, meanwhile, are advocating that vaccine that finds no takers in Hong Kong be given to other countries before it ends up in the trash. Regina Ip, a member of parliament, called for Hong Kong to donate vaccine to India.
According to a report by the AP news agency, Hong Kong has so far received shipments of 3.3 million BioNTech doses, of which only 1.2 million doses have been administered. An unknown number of doses were discarded because of suspected packaging damage. The government's plans call for about half of the 6.5 million vaccine-eligible residents to receive BioNTech and the other half to receive the preparation made by the Chinese company Sinovac.
Vaccination skepticism in Hong Kong is particularly high because of low confidence in the government following the mass protests of 2019 and due to Beijing's increasingly repressive policies. Fear of side effects as well as conspiracy theories on social media have contributed to the hesitant attitude, as has a currently small number of new infections, which makes an immediate danger from the virus seem low.
Around 19 percent of the Hong Kong population have taken up vaccination offers so far. Only just under 14 percent have been vaccinated twice, despite having sufficient vaccines in stock. For this reason, there are calls to increase the willingness to be vaccinated through financial government incentives. Government leader Carrie Lam rejected this on Tuesday. "That could have the opposite effect," she said. Instead, Lam appealed to companies to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, including with the help of cash and gifts. She said the government was also considering giving state employees extra days off if they got vaccinated.
Hong Kongers are even less interested in BioNTech than in the Sinovac preparation, which 45 percent of those vaccinated have received. This is also due to the fact that the Chinese company has so far hardly made its data available to independent researchers. The vaccine has not yet been approved by the WHO.