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







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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