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Politics first, vaccinations second|Stephen Vines

The government’s ruthless politicization of the anti-Covid vaccination program is unceasing, dangerous and, at times, farcical.

Things have got to such a stage that the Lam administration, in search of political correctness, has even gone so far as to undermine confidence in its own vaccination program by suspending the application of the German-made BioNTech vaccine for 12 days following the discovery of some faulty packaging which did not even affect the vaccine itself but related to faulty caps.

More recently the government cancelled an order for the AstraZeneca vaccine on the strange grounds that it already had sufficient supplies. Did it really not know the size of its vaccine stock when this order was originally placed? As ever with the vaccination programme, there are more questions than answers.

What is known however is that the Lam administration is hell bent on flourishing its patriotic credentials by pushing the China-made Sinovac vaccine and, although there have been mounting reports of fatalities and serious illness following the application of this jab, the government’s advisors have never dared suggesting suspending inoculations, on the contrary and with great speed they have declared that these serious medical problems have nothing to do with Sinovac.

There is every chance that these advisors might be right but such is the government’s lack of credibility that mistrust hangs over everything they do.

The net result is dangerous because not only is Hong Kong’s vaccination rate very low, just 7 per cent of the adult population, but even those who signed up have not been turning up for their jabs because of the level of uncertainty surrounding the vaccination program.

Things got off to a very shaky start, not just because Hong Kong was late in embarking on vaccinations but also because the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO) made it clear that she was intent on politicizing the fight against Covid before it even began.

Last December she castigated critics of the program: “Unfortunately, just as with the government’s other epidemic prevention work, some people with ulterior motives were spreading malicious rumors, and publishing false information that stigmatizes and politicizes the vaccine purchase on the internet and quoting negative opinions from anonymous sources.”

Things went downhill from there with the government introducing a health tracking system that alarmed members of the public who feared it would be used to invade their personal privacy. Instead of providing concrete assurances, the CENO chose to hit out at those she accused of spreading “false information”.

Meanwhile every effort was made to encourage use of Sinovac even though, despite numerous promises, dating back to the beginning of the year, the manufacturers’ have yet to achieve third stage confirmation of its efficacy. This is why Sinovac remains off the World Health Organizations’ list of approved vaccines.

However tests that have been made show that Sinovac’s efficacy is in a range between 50–60 per cent, the lowest level among vaccines circulating around the world.

Moreover, because of doubts over its safety among people aged 60 and over, Sinovac is not administered to this age group on the Mainland, while in Hong Kong they became the priority targets for this jab. The patriots in the Lam administration sure know how to go that extra mile and do not let health considerations get in the way of their efforts.

BioNTech, on the other hand, is fully tested and has an efficacy rate of well over 90 per cent, approaching 100 per cent among younger receivers of this vaccination. Yet in March, when a private clinic advised patients to take the German vaccine, it was struck off the government’s vaccination program.

Meanwhile China has been reinforcing its demand for use of Mainland-produced vaccines by denying entry to anyone who has taken a vaccine not made in China. This form of ‘vaccine nationalism’ has meant that many Hongkongers have little choice but to use Sinovac because of the need to visit Mainland for work or family reasons.

However they may well find that a Sinovac jab will not get them into a number of other countries which have said that when travel resumes they will not recognize the application of vaccines that are not approved by the WHO.

So, the politics of the Hong Kong vaccination program have produced ever growing repercussions but the most pressing problem is that it leaves us very far away from achieving the 70 per cent level of herd immunity which is widely regarded as being ‘safe’ to allow the resumption of business as usual.

Yet again, under the Lam administration, Hong Kong has been pushed to the back of queue among places that were once regarded as favored destinations. This is terrible news for the economy in general but, far more worryingly for the health of the SAR.

(Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of ‘Eastern Express’ and founding publisher of ‘Spike’. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse”

Vines’ latest book Defying the Dragon — Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published early next year by Hurst Publishing. He is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously — Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium, Market Panic and Food Gurus.)

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