Hong Kong says BioNTech vaccine probe finds no systemic flaws

Hong Kong likely to resume its inoculation drive next week, local media say, after probe into defective packaging rules out systemic errors.

An initial investigation into the packaging of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine did not show any “obvious systemic factors”, Hong Kong’s government said on Saturday, days after use of the jab was suspended in the city and neighbouring Macau.

Authorities halted using the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and the US drugmaker Pfizer on Wednesday, citing defective packaging, in a move that triggered confusion in inoculation centres across the city.

The suspension came as Hong Kong faced a sluggish take-up of vaccines due to dwindling confidence in China’s Sinovac vaccine and fears of adverse reactions.

The city began its inoculation campaign with doses from Sinovac in February and began offering the one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech in March. The latter is distributed in Hong Kong and Macau via a partnership between BioNTech and China’s Fosun Pharma, while BioNTech partners with Pfizer in markets outside greater China.

In a statement published late on Saturday, Hong Kong’s government said the results of the investigation, carried out by BioNTech and Fosun, did not rule out that the situation was “caused by environmental conditions during the long-haul transport process”.

It was not related to the cold-chain and logistical management of the vaccine and random testing of intact vials delivered to Hong Kong did not uncover any issue of leakage, it said.

Both Fosun and BioNTech considered the vaccines to have no safety risks and people who have received them “do not need to worry”, the government said.

The remaining part of the investigation will focus on “ascertaining the integrity of the intrinsic properties of the relevant batches of vaccine, and that the batches are safe for use”.

The government said it was following up with Fosun and BioNTech to complete the investigation within a week to allow for a resumption of supplying the vaccines to the public.

Dr Lam Ching-choi, member of a government task force overseeing vaccine distribution, told the South China Morning Post that he expected the city to resume its inoculation programme next week after BioNTech and Fosun submitted their full investigation report.

“The findings currently show that more than one million remaining vaccines in Hong Kong are safe to use and it should be individual cases that some bottles with defects were found,” Lam was quoted as saying.

“But the government will still ask the manufacturer to supply more batches of vaccines for the city to fulfil its order of 7.5 million doses. It will be better for us to wait for the full report, although currently, it is pretty certain that there are no safety concerns.”


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