Health chief backs reporting only ‘meaningful’ deaths

Health Secretary Sophia Chan has backed an expert committee’s decision to stop reporting every death following a coronavirus jab, saying it can help people better understand the situation as they’ll only be notified about “meaningful cases”.

The Expert Committee on Clinical Events Assessment Following Covid-19 Immunisation announced on Tuesday that with immediate effect, it would only make public deaths that are potentially associated with the shots.

The city’s inoculation drive has received a lukewarm response ever since it was rolled out in February.

Some people had said they were reluctant to get the jabs after learning from the media that multiple people had died after receiving the shots – despite experts reiterating that their deaths were not linked to the vaccine.

Speaking on an RTHK radio programme on Wednesday, Chan said the previous practice of reporting every death after the jabs could lead to confusion and misinformation.

“Our transparency has and will always be there,” Chan said.

“We aren’t holding back the information, but only reporting meaningful cases to the people … We believe that if we only reveal cases that have a potential link with the vaccine, it will be more clear.”

A monthly report on vaccine safety will also be published from July, the health chief added.

She conceded that there’s “a lot of room for improvement” in terms of the city’s inoculation rate, and urged people to “embrace” the vaccines on offer as that’s the only way to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said the government needs to communicate with people in layman’s terms, saying members of the public won’t understand all the technical jargon.

“When ordinary people hear terms like potential association, they could be scared … and unnecessarily worried. While it’s good that the government provides incentives to people to get the jab, officials need to review its promotion materials on vaccine safety, so that the message can reach the people,” he told a radio show.

Ho stressed both vaccines available in Hong Kong – BioNTech and Sinovac – are safe.