No rush to inoculate children, experts say

Medical experts including an adviser to the government have said there’s no need to hurry to vaccinate children, after an advisory committee recommended reducing the minimum age for people to receive the Sinovac jab to three.

Lau Yu-lung, chair of the department of paediatrics at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s Advisory Panel on Covid-19 Vaccines, said the age limit should be reduced gradually, with older children offered the vaccine first, followed by primary school pupils and then those at kindergaten and nursery.

“I’m not saying that we go all out, starting three to 17 in one go. Not at all,” he told RTHK’s Backchat programme on Tuesday. “I think we should do it in steps. But that is my own personal view. That as to be discussed later on.

“After the primary school children have been vaccinated, say at the beginning of next year, and we’ve accumulated some more experience, we can start looking at the kindergarten and nursery children, that is the three year olds and so on.

“By that time, the condition may be mature enough for the mainland authorities, the central government, to say yes, we will open up the border and connect with the world.”

The government said on Monday that its advisers had gone through information provided by Sinovac, real-world data collected on the mainland, as well as initial data from phase three clinical trials in countries like South Africa and Chile, before deciding to recommend the lower age limit.

It said the committee was seeking more information on the BioNTech vaccine from its supplier, Fosun Pharmaceutical, before approving its use on children aged five to 11.

Meanwhile a University of Hong Kong epidemiologist, Benjamin Cowling, said the focus should be on increasing the level of vaccination in elderly people.

“Children are really at much lower risk of Covid than older adults, and the elderly particularly, so in my opinion the priority in Hong Kong should be to vaccinate the elderly,” he said on RTHK’s Hong Kong Today programme on Tuesday.

“But at the same time, as long as we pursue the zero-Covid approach successfully and we don’t have Covid in our community, then there’s no rush, there’s no extreme urgency, particularly for children, to get vaccinated.

“But if we’re anticipating reopening, relaxing the Covid policies, then of course we’d like to have vaccination being offered, at least on a voluntary basis, to as many people as possible.”