Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after packaging defects ranging from cracked containers to loose caps were discovered in one batch of doses, in a major blow to a city already struggling in its campaign to inoculate its seven million residents against Covid-19.
Health officials called the halt a precaution, saying that none of the defective vials had been administered to patients and that they had found no health risks. But if the suspension persists, the Chinese territory may not have enough shots to protect its population while the coronavirus continues to spread. Hong Kong officials were counting on 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer of the United States and BioNTech of Germany, to help fill their needs.
The discovery has also unleashed a hunt for the origin of the defects, as well as questions about whether more might be out there. The doses were manufactured at BioNTech’s facilities in Germany, while a Chinese company called Fosun Pharma was in charge of transporting, storing and distributing the shots in Hong Kong.
“I’m confused as to why this is being reported for the first time in Hong Kong and we haven’t heard about it elsewhere,” said Benjamin Cowling, the division head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong.
poll of 2,733 residents showed that only 39 percent of Hong Kong residents were willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
“There are some important risks here that this will further undermine confidence in the vaccines that are available,” said Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, who got the BioNTech shot on March 12.
Professor Grépin said that many Hong Kong residents had been waiting to see what the early stages of the rollout would look like before deciding on taking a vaccine.
The suspension sent a ripple of uncertainty through the city’s clinics and medical offices, as vaccinations shuddered to a halt.
rounded up for quarantine.
It is unclear how soon concerns about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be cleared up or how quickly Hong Kong can make up for the shortfall. The city has also ordered 7.5 million vaccine doses from the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, which are set to arrive in the second quarter. The company has not yet applied for approval of its vaccine in Hong Kong.
However quickly the problem is resolved, confusion has been sown.
Ruby Callaghan Brown, 32, and her husband arrived at a vaccination center on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island at 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 minutes before it opened. A staff member shooed them away, saying all vaccinations had been stopped and that an announcement was coming.
Then they read online that the center had reopened, so they returned. They were about to submit their paperwork when they were told once again that vaccinations were suspended.