Why would a Hong Kong resident not want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus? There is a choice of two vaccines, one Chinese and the other German, and jabs are free.
The more people who get shots the greater the possibility of life returning to normal. Normality means doing all that was possible before the Covid-19 pandemic struck 15 months ago, forcing the imposition of social-distancing rules that have markedly changed our city and the world.
Vaccines bring about immunity without causing illness and prevent the spread of disease. With the government’s vaccination programme being opened to all people above the age of 16 from Friday, there is no good reason for not making an online booking.
Yet barely 10 per cent of the population has received a first jab and fewer still the recommended two-shot regimen since the end of February, a low figure given that at least 70 per cent is necessary for herd immunity to be attained. At that point, the spread of the coronavirus from person to person will be unlikely.
It is a goal that is easily attainable given that Hong Kong is fortunate in having sufficient vaccines at a time when there are shortages in many other parts of the world. Reluctance by too many people stands in the way, though.
Their reasons include worries about the side effects of vaccines that have not gone through the usual lengthy process of trials, not seeing personal benefit, or a belief it is better to wait for second-generation vaccines to be developed. The government has offered the incentive of further relaxing social-distancing rules if staff and customers of restaurants and other venues are vaccinated, but that has not been enough to spur greater interest.
Hong Kong’s restrictions have been moderate compared to most other places and the mask-wearing and limits in public have become second nature. There is also an understanding that unbridled travel will not be possible until the global situation dramatically changes and, of that, Hong Kong has little control.
But the goal of herd immunity is essential for economic recovery. Too many businesses are financially suffering from the restrictions.
The unemployment rate is 6.8 per cent, still near a 17-year high, with the tourism sector especially hard hit. Travel bubbles hold the key to reviving the industry and rejuvenating the retail and accommodation sectors, although attracting mainland visitors depends on Hong Kong attaining a prolonged period of zero infections.
Authorities need to put greater energy into encouraging vaccinations, while respected local figures should be recruited for the campaign. Incentives have to be more enticing and timetables clearly defined.
There is no room for complacency or confusion. The message is simple: that the vaccines are safe and reliable and, through community-wide vaccination, Hong Kong can be as before.