New Covid vaccine expected before Christmas

The new Covid-19 vaccine specifically targeting the fast-spreading Omicron sub-variant BA4/5 is expected to be available in Hong Kong before Christmas in time for the travel holiday rush, a hospital pharmacist leader said.

Hong Kong’s advisory panel on Covid-19 vaccines have authorized earlier this month [Nov7] that “BioNtech’s Comirnaty Omicron BA.4-5 bivalent vaccine can be used as an alternative to the fourth dose of the current ancestral strain vaccines for eligible persons” aged 12 years or above.

Pfizer/BioNTech developed the vaccine to specifically target the subvariant BA4/5 that has become the predominant strain globally.

Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong president William Chui Chun-ming told The Standard on Monday that his association believes the supply for the bivalent BioNTech vaccine will arrive in the SAR by the end of the month and begin to be administered before Christmas after the government releases detailed vaccination arrangements.

The usual 30-microgram shot will be offered as a booster jab and will be free of charge at public vaccination centers.

"For people who have already been administered with four doses of BioNtech they may consider administering the bivalent vaccine as the fifth dose.," Chui said.

The bivalent vaccine can be given 60 days after receiving the third or fourth dose, he said, adding that its safety profile is “very similar” to the first-generation vaccine.

Chui said protection from the second generation vaccine was still unknown.

It is hoped it would be like the original vaccine, where protection is from four to six months before antibody levels begin to wane.

“According to the second and third phases of the new BioNTech’s clinical trial data, the number of antibodies against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants developed a month after receiving a 30-microgram dose of the new jab is 9.5 times higher than receiving the original vaccine for adults aged 18 to 55, and 13.2 times higher for those aged above 55,” Chui’s society said in a statement.

Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma is the agent distributing the German-made BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong.

Chui said his group believes that Hong Kong will go for an annual Covid vaccination program like that for the seasonal flu.

BioNtech is making a combination of flu and Covid vaccine,” he said.

The Department of Health meanwhile told The Standard that mix and match of vaccines is possible, including for the new toddler vaccine from BioNTech for six months old to four years old.

It pointed to latest guidelines stating: “Those who have completed the first two doses of Covid-19 vaccine may choose to use a different vaccine for subsequent doses with informed consent.”

Chui said babies six months old to four years old who received two doses of the mainland-made Sinovac vaccine can be given the BioNTech toddler vaccine as the third dose. “It is also the government recommendation,” he said.

Hong Kong on Monday [Nov 14] recorded 6,014 cases -- 5,458 local and 556 imported, as well as 10 deaths.

This takes the case tally to 443,481 and 10,323 deaths since the fifth wave on December 31, 2021.

Hong Kong health authorities received 1,851 positive reports from 811 schools, and nine classes with outbreaks were suspended for a week.

Nine elderly homes and four disabled homes reported 28 infections yesterday.

As of 8pm on November 6, around 19.85 million doses of Covid vaccines had been administered for Hong Kong people. Around 6.89 million people had received at least one dose of vaccine, including 94.9 percent of people aged 12 or above.