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Editorial : Side effects of vaccines have led to concern

【明報專訊】The government has approved the emergency use of a vaccine developed by BioNTech, a German drugmaker, in Hong Kong. The first batch of about one million doses is expected to arrive in Hong Kong in late February and the vaccination will begin in March at the earliest. When it comes to fighting the pandemic, a two-pronged approach is necessary, and the elimination of the virus in communities and vaccination are of equal importance. One should not be biased in favour of one option or the other. Amid the scarce supply of coronavirus vaccines around the globe, a vaccine that satisfies the threshold of the WHO and the standards set by the Hong Kong government will be worth introducing regardless of the place of production or brand.

During its meeting last week, the twelve experts of the Advisory Panel on COVID-19 Vaccines (Advisory Panel) unanimously approved the introduction of Comirnaty, a nucleic acid vaccine developed by BioNTech and Fosun. The Food and Health Bureau adopted the advice of the experts this week and officially granted the license for emergency use. The global supply of COVID-19 vaccines is tight. Just earlier the WHO criticised some rich countries for hoarding tens of millions of doses to vaccinate their citizens, leaving high-risk people in poor countries without vaccines. One small West African country has received only 25 doses. The Hong Kong government originally expected that the vaccination programme would start this month. Now it has to wait a little longer. However, given the global scramble for vaccines, it is a pretty good situation that one million doses will be available at the end of next month. Of course, first-generation COVID-19 vaccines are aimed at preventing the disease from developing. There is no data showing that they can prevent the infection or spread of the virus. If Hong Kong wants to effectively control the epidemic, it cannot rely on vaccines alone. It must continue to adhere to social distancing measures and be decisive in the elimination of the virus in communities. For some time to come, actions such as mandatory testing in buildings and the sealing off of certain areas will still need to be taken appropriately.

The Hong Kong government's vaccine procurement plan is known to include Comirnaty, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, and the Beijing Sinovac vaccine. According to the government, the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be supplied to Hong Kong until the second half of the year at the earliest. Recently, both BioNTech and AstraZeneca have reduced their supply to Europe on the grounds of production process problems to the chagrin of Europe. Although Hong Kong has not been affected for the time being, it does show that it is absolutely not right to rely on one or two drug companies for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. The BioNTech vaccine was among the first vaccines, and many vaccination programmes around the world are based on it. Both BioNTech and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines are nucleic acid vaccines involving a new technology. The effective rate as announced by the drug companies exceeds 90%.

Many people are having a wait-and-see attitude towards vaccination. Before the Hong Kong government launches the vaccination programme, it must, on the one hand, make proper logistics and storage arrangements to ensure that no vaccines will go to waste because of improper handling. On the other hand, it must launch promotion campaigns as soon as possible so that the public can have a full understanding of the side effects of vaccines. At the same time, the government should pay close attention to how vaccination programmes are being carried out in other parts of the world to see whether there is anything untoward. From the perspective of the government and health experts, the primary consideration for vaccination is benefits and risks. A vaccination programme should go ahead if the benefits outweigh the risks. But individual people are worried about whether they are the unlucky ones to develop the serious side effects.

明報社評2021.01.27:疫苗副作用惹關注 澄清疑惑政府有責

政府批准德國BioNTech疫苗在港緊急使用,首批約百萬劑預料2月下旬運抵香港,最快3月開始接種。抗疫兩條腿走路,社區殲「毒」與疫苗接種同樣重要,不可偏廢。全球新冠疫苗供應稀缺,只要能夠滿足世衛門檻要求、符合港府所訂標準,都值得引入,不應拘泥於產地或品牌。

新冠病毒疫苗顧問專家委員會上周開會,12名專家一致通過引入復星-BioNTech核酸疫苗「復必泰」,食衛局本周採納專家建議,正式批出緊急使用許可。全球新冠疫苗供應緊張,早前世衛才批評,一些富國包攬數以千萬劑疫苗為國民接種,令窮國高危人士苦無疫苗可用,有西非小國僅獲25劑疫苗。港府原先期望疫苗接種計劃能於本月展開,現在雖然要多等一會,然而觀乎全球疫苗「爭崩頭」情况,下月底能夠有百萬劑現貨到手,其實已很不錯。當然,第一代新冠疫苗的作用,是盡量防止病發,沒有數據顯示它們能夠防止感染或傳播,香港若要有效控制疫情,不能單靠疫苗,還要繼續堅持社交距離措施,以及在社區果斷「掃蕩病毒」,未來一段時間,大廈強檢、封區檢測等行動,仍要適時派上用場。

港府疫苗採購計劃,已知對象包括復必泰、阿斯利康-牛津疫苗,以及北京科興疫苗。據政府說法,阿斯利康疫苗最快要下半年才能供港。最近BioNTech和阿斯利康皆以生產流程問題為由,減少向歐洲供貨,令歐洲方面非常不滿。香港暫時雖未受影響,可是事態正好說明,新冠疫苗供應絕不能太過依靠某一兩間藥商。BioNTech疫苗面世較早,全球多國疫苗接種計劃,目前都以它為主力。BioNTech和美國莫德納的新冠疫苗,皆為核酸疫苗,屬於新技術,藥廠公布的有效率超過九成。

目前不少人都對接種疫苗持觀望態度,港府推展疫苗接種計劃前,一方面要理順物流儲藏等安排,確保不會有疫苗因為處理不當報廢,另一方面也要及早展開宣傳教育,讓公眾對副作用問題有全面認識,同時亦要密切留意外地疫苗接種情况,看看是否真的有不尋常情况。從政府和衛生專家的角度,疫苗接種首要考慮是效益與風險,效益大過風險便應該接種,可是從個人角度,總有人擔心偏偏自己不幸出現嚴重副作用。

■Glossary

生字

scarce : if sth is scarce, there is not enough of it and it is only available in small quantities

unanimously : by everyone in a particular group

chagrin : a feeling of being disappointed or annoyed

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