People queue up for COVID-19 tests outside a community vaccination centre especially for children and the elderly in Hong Kong on Feb 23, 2022. (PETER PARKS / AFP)
HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s health chief on Tuesday approved the lowering of the minimum age for receiving the Sinovac vaccine from 3 years to 6 months old for "off-label use".
For the BioNTech vaccine – the other COVID vaccine approved by the city’s health authorities – the government is negotiating with the drug manufacturer on the procurement of the designated paediatric formulation.
Starting from Thursday, children aged six months and above can receive the same dosage as adults if they take the Sinovac vaccine, while the experts advised a three-dose series – each dose is one-tenth of that for an adult – to be administered to children aged 6 months to under 5 years.
READ MORE: HK lowers Sinovac jab-taking age to 3 amid raging 5th wave
The approval came a day after the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases, joined by the Chief Executive's expert advisory panel, recommended lowering the minimum age for COVID-19 inoculation to six months from current three years.
The advisers also recommended a fourth dose for those aged 50 years and above at least three months from the third dose on par with the elderly population
Presently, children must be aged three to receive the Sinovac vaccine, while the minimum age requirement is five years for the BioNtech jab.
According to research conducted by the University of Hong Kong, for children aged below 11 who need to be hospitalized after COVID-19 infection, the risks of admittance to a paediatric intensive care unit and death are 1.8 percent and 0.2 percent respectively, said a government spokesperson.
“The government attaches great importance to the vaccination for young children, and will strive to provide a wide range of vaccination channels for them to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, thus having early protection in the face of the threat posed by the highly transmissible mutant virus strains,” said the spokesperson.
Starting Aug 4, people in Hong Kong aged 50 to 59 who have received third doses of Sinovac or BioNTech vaccine may also receive a fourth dose of the vaccine at least three months after the last dose.
During an online meeting on Monday, the two scientific committees said early clinical trial data from three doses of BioNTech vaccine and two doses of Sinovac vaccine in children down to six months of age showed that both vaccines were immunogenic and had no new safety concerns, according to a government press release.
Taking into account the local context and in anticipation of a winter surge in COVID-19 infections, vaccinating this group of children will help protect them from severe disease and death, they said.
The committee also recommended a fourth dose for those aged 50 years and above at least three months from the third dose on par with the elderly population.
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They also said three doses of either of Sinovac or BioNTech vaccines are highly effective in reducing hospitalisation, severe disease and death across all age groups in the adult population.
They strongly urged completion of the recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.