Hong Kong dangles in incentives to get vaccinated. This may not be enough.


Hong Kong – Brand new apartment. Paid leave. A private party on a commercial airliner.

Incentives to get vaccinated against Covid-19 are multiplying in Hong Kong, from the government as well as businesses eager to begin their recovery.

But the Chinese mainland, which has largely kept the coronavirus under control, is now struggling with a slow vaccination campaign that officials fear could leave it vulnerable to outbreaks like the one it is currently facing. TaiwanIt is one of the pandemic’s early success stories.

Experts warn that incentives in Hong Kong may do little to quell the anxiety and confusion behind people’s reluctance to get a vaccine, and that other solutions are urgently needed before Hong Kong experiences a “fifth wave” of infection.

Since it takes several weeks from the first dose to a full vaccination, “if you sit and wait and hesitate, we may not have time to protect us when the fifth wave suddenly arrives,” said Dr Alvin Chan, co-chair of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s Advisory Committee on Infectious Diseases.

While other parts of Asia, such as India And the Philippines, which is facing a severe vaccine shortage, Hong Kong got enough doses to cover its 7.5 million people. Vaccines are free but not mandatory, and residents have two options: the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, or the one developed by BioNTech. Sinovac, a private Chinese company. Vaccination is available to everyone 16 and older, and the health minister on Thursday approved a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Children under 12 years old.

The vaccination campaign began in late February with the aim of vaccinating 70% of the population to reach herd immunity. Only then, officials said, can Hong Kong open its doors to the world after its borders were almost completely closed to non-residents for more than a year.

This goal appears increasingly elusive. As of Thursday, about 19 percent of the population had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 14 percent had been fully vaccinated. That compares with 31 percent of those fully vaccinated in Singapore, another Asian financial hub, and 41 percent in the United States. It also contrasts with mainland China, which vaccinates people at a rate of more than 17 million per day.

“I fear that the vaccination rate in Hong Kong may not exceed 30 percent by the end of the year,” said Dr. Paul Chan, chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong School of Medicine.

Panicked officials are now trying everything they can to push residents toward vaccination centers. On Monday, they said that in the case of the fifth wave, “high-risk” places such as restaurants, cinemas and schools could be restricted to people being vaccinated. Some groups such as construction workers who are required to undergo regular testing if they are not vaccinated now must pay for the tests themselves. With nearly two million unused doses of the vaccine, some of which expire in August, the government is considering selling it or donating it elsewhere and delaying future shipments.

Both the public and private sectors are also trying more positive reinforcements. Civil servants were given a day off from work for each dose, with similar policies adopted by HSBC and other major banks at the request of the government.

last week , Airports Authority It said it would give 60,000 air tickets to vaccinated Hong Kong residents and airport staff by the end of September. A few days later, real estate developers announced that they would be holding a sweepstakes open to all fully vaccinated permanent residents age 18 and up, for a $1.4 million one-bedroom apartment (total area: 449 square feet). In a city I’ve always struggled with Affordable housingThis was an interesting move.

Cathay Pacific, the city’s main carrier, added to the prizes Thursday with a special trip around Hong Kong for one winner plus family and friends, all of whom must be fully vaccinated.

Vaccinations have increased since the announcement of apartment lotteries and other incentives, with average seven days By about 20 percent over the past week. But researchers say the enthusiasm may not last.

A recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong of 1,200 people found that of those who had not been vaccinated, only a quarter planned to do so in the next six months.

The problem was not with the idea of ​​a vaccine – nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that vaccination is the most effective way to fight the virus. Even more than half supported making it mandatory for certain groups like police officers and firefighters, as well foreign domestic workers, who faced greater discrimination during the pandemic. But when it came to getting the shots themselves, most respondents had skepticism.

Dr Paul Chan of CUHK, who took part in the survey, said the number one cause is reports of people dying soon after they received the vaccine. More than 20 such deaths have been recorded in Hong Kong, none of which have been linked to vaccines. Reports of temporary facial paralysis and other cases among people who have recently been vaccinated have also been widely covered in local media. The Pfizer-BioNTech . Shot Suspension For 12 days this spring due to packaging defects, concern has increased.

The fear of adverse reactions is particularly strong among the elderly population, where government statistics show that less than 4 percent of those 80 or older are vaccinated.

“I haven’t been vaccinated yet because some press stories claim that old people died suddenly after being vaccinated,” said Stanley Chan, a 76-year-old retiree. “That’s why I want to wait and watch the situation.”

The perceived risks of vaccination loom large when the risk of contracting the virus appears to be very low by comparison. Like other parts of Asia, Hong Kong closed its borders early and imposed strict measures though periodic outbreaks, to a minimum of cases. The city, which recorded no new local cases on Thursday, recorded less than 12,000 coronavirus infections and 210 deaths.

“It’s not a rush,” said Kitty Yu, 24, a company employee. “I want to wait now and make sure the vaccine is safe.”

The second biggest reason for hesitation that university researchers have found is a lack of confidence in government recommendations. Although the survey did not go into detail, the public’s relationship with the Hong Kong government has been severely damaged by a protest movement 2019 Because of China’s tightening grip on the city it has since been suppressed. These days, Dr Chan said, this mistrust can extend to government public health advisors.

Other major reasons cited in the survey were a desire to wait for a “better” vaccine and a lack of trust in vaccine manufacturers or manufacturing sites.

Residents said winning the apartment was unlikely to make it a strong incentive, and if they were vaccinated, it would be for their health, not for money.

“The government should let people know that vaccination is for their own good and for the people they love around them,” said Tom Lee, a 70-year-old retiree who said that was why he got vaccinated. “Reviving the economy for the government? What do you care about that?”

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