【明報專訊】Hong Kong's COVID-19 vaccination programmes have suffered another setback. The government has announced the suspension of the BioNTech ''Comirnaty'' vaccination after a batch delivered from Europe was found to have packaging defects in the vial seals. Vaccination centres have repeatedly found that the caps of the vials from the same batch are loose or crooked, so it is reasonable to suspend the vaccination programme temporarily and wait for the investigation by the pharmaceutical company. Most importantly, the manufacturer should replenish its stocks as soon as possible to ensure citizens who have had the first shot can receive the second dose in time.
It has almost been one month since the start of the vaccination programme in Hong Kong. 400,000 people, who make up 5% of the total population, have been vaccinated. Compared with the first month of vaccination in some European countries, the vaccination rate in Hong Kong is not too bad but far from remarkable. It is difficult to say how much the delay in the Comirnaty vaccination will affect the inoculation progress, but the sooner the problem is solved, the better.
Government officials have stressed that all problematic doses have been discarded and have not been administered to citizens. However, those who have made vaccination appointments for the next few days will inevitably bemoan the abrupt change of their schedules. The government's suspension of the vaccination programme pending the drug company's investigative report is the circumspect and appropriate thing to do. However, the government's contingency plan is evidently inadequate, and this calls for review.
Many citizens did not know that they could not receive vaccinations until they were at the vaccination centres yesterday morning (March 24). The staff knew little about the suspension and were unable to give a full explanation. Some citizens were dissatisfied and grumbled. Some vaccination centres, unaware of the latest development, continued to inject some citizens with the Comirnaty jab until they knew the government had suspended the use of it. All this shows that the government did not disseminate information as quickly and clearly as necessary. Government officials mentioned repeatedly that it was the Hong Kong government who informed Fosun Pharma of the defects in the vial seals. If so, the government should have prepared for the emergency. The confusion that occurred yesterday morning could have been avoided.
How long the government will have to suspend the Comirnaty vaccination depends on the progress of the investigation by the manufacturer. If the problem is addressed in a timely manner, the impact can be smaller. If Europe has accelerated legislation to restrict the export of COVID-19 vaccines, which may affect pharmaceutical companies' supply of vaccines to other regions, things will get more complicated. In response, the Hong Kong government should plan early to require manufacturers to bear the responsibilities for defective vaccines.
The growth of vaccine hesitancy around the world has had a significant impact on the fight against the pandemic. The situation in Hong Kong can only be more complicated since the issue of vaccinations is often mingled with politics and prejudice. Even though experts have confirmed that vaccines are guaranteed to be safe and effective before they are introduced, some people still exaggerate the one-sided information and attack the vaccines they ''do not like''. Consequently, vaccine hesitancy in society has intensified. The suspension of the Comirnaty vaccination in Hong Kong and Macao is only due to defective vials, which is not related to the safety of the vaccine. One should not make a mountain out of a molehill. Some people claim that the government's suspension of the Comirnaty vaccination is aimed at forcing people to receive the Sinovac vaccine. Such a conspiracy theory will do all kinds of harm but no good to the government's plan to accelerate the vaccination programme.
明報社評 2021.03.25：復必泰接種無奈暫停 渲染炒作添疫苗猶豫
■/ Glossary 生字 /
replenish /rɪˈplenɪʃ/：to make sth full again by replacing what has been used
one-sided /ˌwʌn ˈsaɪdɪd/：considering or showing only one side of a question, subject etc in a way that is unfair
make a mountain out of a molehill：to treat a problem as if it was very serious when in fact it is not