HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong will allow children 12 and older to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in a bid to increase vaccination rates in the city.
Government officials said Thursday they would offer the vaccine to around 240,000 children aged 12 to 15 starting Friday, joining other countries that have started immunizing children.
The move comes as Hong Kong urges its 7.5 million people to get vaccinated. Since the start of its vaccination campaign at the end of February, just over 15% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The city has experienced widespread hesitation over the vaccine due to mistrust of the government and overwhelming fears of side effects after several people died from inoculations, despite the determination that the deaths were not directly related to the vaccine.
“The government attaches great importance to the vaccination of adolescents and students, and it hopes that more students, parents and teachers will be vaccinated,” said Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip.
Since they are under 18, children must get parental approval before they can be vaccinated.
Health Minister Sophia Chan urged parents to let their children get vaccinated to “help them get back to school for a normal life as soon as possible.” Kindergarten to high school students are currently only taking half-day classes as part of preventive measures during the pandemic.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city offers the Pfizer vaccine – better known as BioNTech in the city – and the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine.
Hong Kong officials have said those who wish to receive the Pfizer vaccine must do so by the end of August before doses expire, and vaccination centers administering the Pfizer vaccine will cease operations in September.
The private sector offers a multitude of incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated. Companies are offering gold bars, a Tesla car, and even an apartment in raffles open to vaccinated residents.
Hong Kong ended a 6-week streak without local infection last week when a 17-year-old girl tested positive despite no travel history. Her mother and sister also tested positive later.