Hong Kong health authorities have extended the city’s vaccine pass to children as young as five, from an initial starting age of 12 years, with residents in the new demographic subject to limitations in mobility citywide based on their inoculation status.
From Friday, the vaccine pass will cover children aged from five years to 11. They must have received one Covid-19 vaccine jab for entry into premises such as restaurants, libraries, gyms and government buildings.
The rule will eventually be expanded to a two-jab criteria by November.
The city has seen a gradual decline in Covid-19 caseloads to around 4,000 infections a day in late September, down from a daily figure of roughly 10,000 earlier in the month. Still, paediatricians have urged parents to get their children, especially those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions, vaccinated.
The Post breaks down the new policy below.
The government announced the vaccine pass extension on Thursday to cover this age group, requiring them to have had a first jab in phase one of the scheme.
The pass is required for most venues in the city such as restaurants, cinemas, libraries, sport venues, amusement parks and religious premises. However, schools are not covered under the scheme.
The first stage, which will start from September 30, will require children in the age bracket to have received at least one vaccine dose within the past three months. Those who received their first dose earlier than that will have to get a second jab to be eligible.
The second stage, starting from November 30, will require children to be double-vaccinated.
Undersecretary for Health Dr Libby Lee Ha-yun told a radio programme this meant children would need to get their first shot of the German-made BioNTech vaccine by October 4 at the latest to fulfil the two-dose requirement, while those taking the Chinese-produced Sinovac jab need to do so by November 1.
This is due to the different dosage intervals for both vaccines, with the second Sinovac dose administered 28 days after the first, while the period for BioNTech is 56 days.
Parents or companions can now save children’s vaccination records in their own “Leave Home Safe” mobile app. The app has been updated to enable users to store up to eight vaccination records.
The function allows users to save vaccination records of children aged 15 or below, residents over 65 years, people with disabilities and others recognised by the government as eligible for the arrangement. The records can also be shared by other carers to facilitate their different needs.
Aside from the app, parents and children can use several methods to display their vaccine pass QR code to gain entry to premises.
They can present a printed version or a photo of the child’s vaccine pass QR code saved on a mobile phone. They can also use the government’s eHealth mobile application, which will allow parents to save their pass and that of their children concurrently.
The government is also developing an update to the “Leave Home Safe” mobile app, which will have a dual vaccine pass function similar to eHealth.
For those who caught the virus before and have not received any vaccination, a first jab is required six months from recovery.
Children who got their first shot within six months before an infection do not require another dose.
Those who have recovered for six months or more and received a first jab at least half a year ago will still have to get a second dose.
Those who received two Sinovac doses and have recovered for six months will need to get a third shot, but the requirement does not apply to children with two BioNTech shots.
According to official data obtained by the Post, an estimated 88 per cent of children aged five to 11 had received at least one jab by last Friday. That meant about 12 per cent, or around 50,000 children in the age group, had yet to get a jab.
As of Wednesday, about 85 per cent of children aged from three to 11 had received their first dose, while 71 per cent had taken two shots, meaning 148,000 in the demographic were still unvaccinated.
But for those under three years, the vaccination rate drops to about 17 per cent, with 87,000 youngsters unvaccinated.
Children as young as six months are now allowed to get the Sinovac vaccine, while the government is still in talks to procure a version of the BioNTech dose suitable for toddlers and babies. The current minimum age for the German-made vaccine is five years or above.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has said the move aims to prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms that could result in deaths among children. He cited data and expert opinions in insisting that vaccination was beneficial to children’s health.
Hong Kong has been battling a Covid-19 surge, with daily caseloads breaching the 10,000 mark earlier in September before dropping, and the more transmissive Omicron subvariant BA.5 becoming the prevalent strain.
Earlier this month, the Hospital Authority said its facilities were treating 103 patients with Covid-19 aged 11 or below, with paediatric isolation units 60 per cent full.
Since the fifth wave emerged, 38 children aged three to 11 years have been listed as either in serious or critical condition, among whom 31 were unvaccinated and four only took one dose.
Eight children have died after catching Covid-19 in the current wave. They were either unvaccinated or received only one shot. One of them was a 22-month-old girl who succumbed to the virus last month as her condition deteriorated less than 24 hours after showing symptoms.
Children’s rights activists have criticised the policy, arguing it will stifle the development of youngsters.
The Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights on Monday said its Facebook page had received more than 1,600 messages on the change to the vaccine pass since last Friday, with many from concerned parents.
Some parents were worried about a second jab as their children had fallen ill for a prolonged period after the first dose, it said. The group also noted that the long-term development of children might be also affected if they could not access public venues.
Meanwhile, some members of government advisory body the Commission on Children backed the policy change. They noted that the health of children should also be considered when protecting their rights, with one member calling for authorities to balance parents’ concerns with the need to protect children.