Hong Kong Suspends Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Use Over Packaging Defects
Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after packaging defects starting from cracked containers to unfastened caps have been found in a single batch of doses, in a serious blow to a metropolis already struggling in its marketing campaign to inoculate its seven million residents towards Covid-19.
Well being officers referred to as the halt a precaution, saying that not one of the faulty vials had been administered to sufferers and that they’d discovered no well being dangers. But when the suspension persists, the Chinese language territory might not have sufficient photographs to guard its inhabitants whereas the coronavirus continues to unfold. Hong Kong officers have been relying on 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer of the US and BioNTech of Germany, to assist fill their wants.
The invention has additionally unleashed a hunt for the origin of the defects, in addition to questions on whether or not extra may be on the market. The doses have been manufactured at BioNTech’s services in Germany, whereas a Chinese language firm referred to as Fosun Pharma was accountable for transporting, storing and distributing the photographs in Hong Kong.
“I’m confused as to why that is being reported for the primary time in Hong Kong and we haven’t heard about it elsewhere,” mentioned Benjamin Cowling, the division head of epidemiology and biostatistics on the College of Hong Kong.
“Was there something particular about this explicit batch? Presumably they have been manufactured in precisely the identical approach that the opposite batches have been manufactured in Germany.”
In an announcement on Wednesday, BioNTech mentioned the batch in query had been despatched solely to Hong Kong and Macau, one other Chinese language territory close by. The corporate mentioned it was investigating the supply of the issue.
“At this level, we’ve got no purpose to imagine there’s any security danger posed to the inhabitants,” BioNTech mentioned.
Fosun Pharma mentioned that BioNTech had detected issues with the lids inside a batch of vaccines shipped to Hong Kong and Macau, the place the authorities have additionally suspended administering the vaccine. Shares in Fosun Pharma fell 4.8 p.c in Hong Kong buying and selling on Wednesday.
Already, Hong Kong’s inoculation drive has been plagued with public doubts. Vaccination bookings had fallen after studies that a number of folks had died after receiving the opposite vaccine Hong Kong is utilizing, which is made by Sinovac, a Beijing firm. Residents scrambled to e book appointments for the BioNTech vaccine, which had roughly double the variety of bookings as Sinovac over the previous six days, in response to official knowledge.
The Hong Kong authorities has discovered no direct hyperlink between the photographs and the deaths. However some folks don’t belief the federal government after mainland Chinese language officers tightened their management over the previous British colony following antigovernment protests in 2019.
In January, a ballot of two,733 residents confirmed that solely 39 p.c of Hong Kong residents have been keen to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
“There are some necessary dangers right here that this can additional undermine confidence within the vaccines which might be accessible,” mentioned Karen Grépin, an affiliate professor on the Faculty of Public Well being on the College of Hong Kong, who received the BioNTech shot on March 12.
Professor Grépin mentioned that many Hong Kong residents had been ready to see what the early phases of the rollout would appear to be earlier than deciding on taking a vaccine.
The suspension despatched a ripple of uncertainty by way of town’s clinics and medical places of work, as vaccinations shuddered to a halt.
Lindsay Eng, 36, received vaccinated at 9:11 a.m. on Wednesday. As she sat within the ready space afterward, she observed new folks had stopped coming in. When she left the middle, staffers have been placing up an indication that mentioned the vaccination service had been suspended. A crowd of people that have been arriving for his or her vaccinations have been requested questions.
Ms. Eng mentioned she wasn’t notably frightened about her personal well being however was extra involved that the incident would lead to fewer folks in Hong Kong getting inoculated.
“Simply speaking to native folks right here, it’s fairly clear that there are lots of people who’re saying, ‘Let’s wait and see,’” mentioned Ms. Eng, who’s from Toronto however has aged members of the family in Hong Kong who’re hesitant to obtain a vaccine.
Hong Kong officers had reached out to Fosun for solutions after receiving studies from frontline staff and pharmacists about faulty vials and packaging, Constance Chan, Hong Kong’s director of well being, mentioned in a information convention on Wednesday. The defects have been discovered earlier than the doses have been administered, she mentioned, including that staff had been vigilantly inspecting containers and vials.
In all, the federal government acquired eight studies of cracked containers, 22 studies of leaks, 16 studies of unfastened caps and 11 studies of stains or marks on the skin of bottles, Dr. Chan mentioned.
The flawed doses have been amongst a batch of 585,000 doses, with the order quantity 210102, the Hong Kong authorities mentioned earlier on Wednesday, citing knowledge from a Hong Kong subsidiary of Fosun. Up to now, 150,200 folks had acquired photographs from that batch, in response to the federal government.
The authorities mentioned they have been additionally placing on maintain one other batch of 758,000 doses of the BioNTech vaccine, with the order quantity 210104.
“It is a precautionary measure to constantly guarantee vaccine security,” the Hong Kong authorities mentioned in an announcement.
Fosun mentioned it could work with BioNTech to conduct inspections of the manufacturing plant in Germany, in response to Dr. Chan.
In contrast with the US and Britain, Hong Kong has been gradual in beginning its vaccination drive. Simply over 5 p.c of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents have been vaccinated. The town has reported greater than 11,000 circumstances and 204 deaths because the pandemic started, nevertheless it simply beat again a brand new outbreak that resulted in lots of of individuals being rounded up for quarantine.
It’s unclear how quickly considerations concerning the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might be cleared up or how rapidly Hong Kong could make up for the shortfall. The town has additionally ordered 7.5 million vaccine doses from the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, that are set to reach within the second quarter. The corporate has not but utilized for approval of its vaccine in Hong Kong.
Nonetheless rapidly the issue is resolved, confusion has been sown.
Ruby Callaghan Brown, 32, and her husband arrived at a vaccination heart on the jap aspect of Hong Kong Island at 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday, quarter-hour earlier than it opened. A employees member shooed them away, saying all vaccinations had been stopped and that an announcement was coming.
Then they learn on-line that the middle had reopened, in order that they returned. They have been about to submit their paperwork after they have been advised as soon as once more that vaccinations have been suspended.
They waited 45 minutes earlier than leaving. “I assumed, ‘I’m simply going to take a seat right here till they alter their thoughts,’” she mentioned.
Elsie Chen contributed analysis.
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