A panel of health experts advising the Hong Kong government has recommended children aged 12-17 should get only one dose of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of heart inflammation side effects.
Professor Lau Yu-lung, who chairs a health committee advising the government on its vaccination programme, told public broadcaster RTHK the side effect was more prevalent than originally thought.
He said experts therefore decided it was better for teenagers to get only one dose to “greatly reduce the chance of heart inflammation.”
The city’s Department of Health did not provide data on how many cases of heart inflammation side effects have been reported.
But RTHK said that more than 30 teenagers suffered inflammation of the heart since the government started administering the shot to those over 12 from June.
Hong Kong has been using two COVID-19 vaccines including Sinovac’s shot vaccinating adults, but teenagers are eligible to take the BioNTech vaccine only.
More than 50% of those aged 12-17 have been vaccinated but the government has not said how many doses have been administered so far.
Regulators in the United States, the European Union and the World Health Organization have said that mRNA vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and by Moderna are associated with rare cases of myocarditis or pericarditis, but that the benefits of the shots outweigh any risks.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can limit the organ’s ability to pump blood and can cause changes in heartbeat rhythms. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the lining around the heart.
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Pfizer has said it recognised there could be rare reports of myocarditis after vaccinations, but such side effects were extremely rare.
BioNTech and its Chinese sales agent Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group did not immediately reply to Reuters’ requests for comment.
The risk of myocarditis was 18.5 per million doses given among people aged 18 to 24 after their second Pfizer dose and 20.2 per million for that age group among Moderna second dose recipients. The risk decreases with age, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Around 65% of Hong Kong’s residents have had their first vaccine dose, but the take up amongst elderly people remain low due to concerns of side effects.
Hong Kong has largely controlled the coronavirus with no locally transmitted cases in many weeks. The Asian financial hub has recorded around 12,100 cases in total and 213 deaths.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast)