【明報專訊】Recently the pace of vaccination against COVID-19 has accelerated in Hong Kong. But residential care homes (RCHs) are still lagging seriously behind, as official figures show that the vaccination rate for residents of residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) and residential care homes for persons with disabilities (RCHDs) stands at merely 5% currently.
It can be said that Hong Kong's vaccination drive has gone from strength to strength recently. In community centres, an average of more than 50,000 people receive vaccination every day, a figure that is several times the number just two months ago at just more than 10,000 people per day. So far, more than 35% of the population suitable for vaccination in Hong Kong have been vaccinated. There is a chance for the vaccination rate to reach 50% by the end of summer. However, there are obvious concerns about the vaccination of people from high-risk groups in Hong Kong. Particularly worthy of concern is the situation in RCHs. As of the beginning of this month, only 4,300 residents of all RCHEs and RCHDs in Hong Kong have been vaccinated, accounting for just 5% of the cohort.
If an outbreak occurs in hospitals and RCHs, the outcome can be quite tragic. At present, around 70% to 80% of doctors in the public health service in Hong Kong have been vaccinated. In contrast, the vaccination rate for nurses and RCH staff is about 50%, which is still too low. More effort must be put in in this regard. However, the biggest problem at hand is still the extremely low vaccination rate of elderly RCH residents. COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to the elderly. Vaccinating elderly care home residents against COVID-19 is the focus of pandemic control work in various countries. In the UK and Canada, the rates of vaccination for care home residents are as high as 90%. The vaccination rate for elderly RCH residents in Hong Kong is miserably low.
Some countries in Europe and North America are confident that their vaccination rates are high enough for them to lift pandemic restrictions in one go and transition back to normal. There is much room for deliberation about whether such a practice is circumspect, and Hong Kong does not need to jump on the bandwagon hastily. However, sooner or later the city has to make early preparations properly for the lifting of pandemic restrictions and the transition to normality. It is somewhat a gamble to begin doing so when the vaccination rate just reaches 50%. Theoretically, it is safer to use a 70% vaccination rate as a reference point. However, if there are obvious weaknesses in this shield of vaccine protection and too few elderly RCH residents, a crucial high-risk cluster, are vaccinated, the COVID-19 virus can take advantage of the weaknesses at any time and spread widely between people who are not vaccinated. The numbers of severe cases and people dying of COVID-19 could still rise sharply.
Given the enormous resistance to the boosting of the inoculation drive in RCHs, the authorities must rise to the challenge and try to overcome the difficulties, step up publicity and education campaigns and dispel the misunderstanding in society that ''it is not safe for the elderly to get the jab''. This is just the basic thing to do. The government must work harder to make it easier for RCH residents to get vaccinated and create incentives. Under current outreach vaccination arrangements for RCHs, residents are assessed by an outreach medical team and confirmed to be healthy before the team arranges for them to get vaccinated. This is a reasonable arrangement in principle. However, a practitioner has criticised the slow progress of the assessment service. Though RCHs submitted in late March lists of residents who intended to get vaccinated, the assessments remain uncompleted after the passage of nearly three months. A few assessments have not even started. It is necessary for the authorities to improve administrative arrangements, mobilise more resources and manpower and speed up the assessments of those intending to get the jab.
明報社評 2021.07.08：院舍長者擔心打針 政府鼓勵多管齊下
■/ Glossary 生字 /
go from strength to strength：to gradually become more successful
a group of people who share a common feature or aspect of behaviour
thinking very carefully about sth before doing it, because there may be risks involved