Hong Kong has suspended the application of BioNTech’s Covid-19 inoculation, a move that threatens to further slow the pace of the city’s slow vaccine introduction and delay easing travel restrictions.
Macao, a Chinese territory near Hong Kong, also shut down its BioNTech vaccine plant, citing packaging deficiencies with a series of shots distributed in both cities. Fosun Pharma.
The Hong Kong government said the shortcomings were related to the corks that closed the bottles.
“BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have no reason to believe that product safety is at stake,” both governments said Wednesday, adding that they would “be careful” to suspend the batch vaccination until the investigation.
A free vaccination program in Hong Kong, which offers the public a choice between a BioNTech shooting and a sting by the Chinese company Sinovac, has been thwarted due to widespread vaccine fluctuations.
This was partly motivated by distrust according to Chinese-made products. Many Hong Kongers also feel there is less urgency to vaccinate given the city’s success in controlling the virus.
Hong Kong the economy is destroyed to the 2019 anti-government protests and pandemic, and the rapid introduction of the vaccine was seen as the city’s best chance to reopen for business travelers and tourists.
The government carried out a a conservative approach to quarantine after the authorities of mainland China asked the city to report almost zero cases before allowing cross-border travel to be exempted from quarantine.
International chambers of commerce have unsuccessfully lobbied for partial easing of these restrictions, which include a strict 21-day isolation of the hotel period for incoming residents.
The announcement of the vaccine suspension immediately hit stocks in the area, and the Hang Seng index fell 2.1 percent on Wednesday. Shares of Fosun International listed in Hong Kong fell 3.3 percent.
By Wednesday, about 150,200 people had received the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, and 252,800 had shot Sinovac, out of a population of 7.5 million.
The same 210102 series was also distributed in Macau, and the governments of both territories said they made the decision to stop vaccination after receiving written notice from Fosun.
William Chui, president of the Hong Kong Hospital Pharmacists Association, said some aluminum vaccine seals have been loosened. But it is unlikely that the already distributed doses were contaminated, he added, because they were also closed with rubber stoppers and it was common practice to separate those with loose seals.
Siddharth Sridhar, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong, said that experts are waiting for additional information from the company, but that the failure is likely to lead to a reduction in the efficiency of the shots.
Constance Chan, Hong Kong’s health director, said packaging problems, such as dislocated corks, stained bottles, leaks and cracks in containers, were found in dozens of shot bottles. She said that the bottles were not used and that Fosun would investigate the production and transport process.