Hong Kong halts use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over packaging defects

COVID-19 vaccines await loading into cold storage as President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing site in Portage, Michigan on Friday, February 19, 2021. (Photo: NYTimes)
Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after packaging defects ranging from cracked containers to loose caps were discovered in one batch of doses, in a major blow to a city already struggling in its campaign to inoculate its 7 million residents against COVID-19.اضافة اعلان

Health officials called the halt a precaution, saying that none of the defective vials had been administered to patients and that they had found no health risks. But if the suspension persists, the Chinese territory may not have enough shots to protect its population while the coronavirus continues to spread. Hong Kong officials were counting on 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer of the United States and BioNTech of Germany, to help fill their needs.

The discovery has also unleashed a hunt for the origin of the defects, as well as questions about whether more might be out there. The doses were manufactured at BioNTech’s facilities in Germany, while a Chinese company called Fosun Pharma was in charge of transporting, storing and distributing the shots in Hong Kong.

In a statement Wednesday, BioNTech said the batch in question had been sent only to Hong Kong and Macao, another Chinese territory nearby. The company said it was investigating the source of the problem.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe there is any safety risk posed to the population,” BioNTech said.

Fosun Pharma said that BioNTech had detected problems with the lids within a batch of vaccines shipped to Hong Kong and Macao, where the authorities have also suspended administering the vaccine.

Already, Hong Kong’s inoculation drive has been plagued with public doubts. Vaccination bookings had fallen after reports that several people had died after receiving the other vaccine Hong Kong is using, which is made by Sinovac, a Beijing company. Residents scrambled to book appointments for the BioNTech vaccine, which had roughly double the number of bookings as Sinovac over the past six days, according to official data.

The Hong Kong government has found no direct link between the shots and the deaths. But some people don’t trust the government after mainland Chinese officials tightened their control over the former British colony following anti-government protests in 2019.