Hong Kong health professionals advocate third-generation COVID vaccination for XBB variant

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Medical experts in Hong Kong recommend that residents receive a third-generation COVID-19 vaccine specifically targeting the XBB variant to enhance protection, especially in anticipation of a winter surge. The government will procure XBB-targeted vaccines based on recommendations from the Centre for Health Protection’s joint scientific committees. However, experts advise high-risk individuals not to delay and opt for currently available vaccines if their previous shot or infection occurred more than six months ago. The experts discussed the potential use of XBB mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna during their meeting.

Due to the limited availability of the XBB vaccine, it is crucial to prioritize high-risk groups, such as elderly residents in care homes. XBB is responsible for over 98 percent of the current COVID-19 cases in the city. The joint scientific committees have characterized XBB vaccines as providing “secure and moderately improved protection” against both circulating and recently emerged variants.

The data examined by the experts indicated that the two XBB vaccines could provide protection against XBB, as well as the increasingly prevalent EG.5 and BA.2.86 variants. However, during the meeting, there was no discussion of the XBB vaccine developed by the US biotechnology company Novavax and recently approved by the US Federal Drug Administration, as the experts had not received the necessary data for evaluation.

Medical experts have cautioned that the activity level of Covid-19 in Hong Kong is likely to increase during the winter season. Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the center’s communicable disease branch, stated, “The Covid-19 activity level is presently stable, but there is a possibility of a winter surge, hopefully not of a severe nature.”

Earlier this week, Professor Hui noted that the nucleic acid testing showed a 15 percent positive rate based on Hospital Authority data, with daily hospitalizations ranging from 100 to 120 cases.

According to the Hospital Authority, as of Tuesday, 700 public hospital patients had contracted Covid-19, with approximately 30 in severe or critical condition.

Furthermore, the experts recommended that high-risk groups, which include individuals aged 18 to 49 with chronic illnesses and immunocompromised children aged six months or older, should receive a Covid-19 booster dose if more than six months have elapsed since their last vaccination or infection. Professor Hui emphasized that they do not need to wait for third-generation XBB vaccines and can continue to receive currently available vaccines, as these remain highly effective in reducing severe cases and fatalities.

The government is in the process of procuring XBB vaccines, and further details regarding availability will be disclosed after procurement. Government-subsidized vaccination programs include first-generation monovalent vaccines from Pfizer and Sinovac, as well as second-generation vaccines from the US that target the original virus strain and the Omicron variant.

Professor Lau Yu-lung, Chairman of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, encourages the public, especially those at high risk, to receive flu vaccinations, which can be administered alongside the COVID-19 vaccine. Surveillance data reveals that more children under the age of five are being hospitalized due to the flu rather than COVID-19, emphasizing the urgency of flu vaccination.

Hong Kong has experienced a sustained surge in summer flu cases since late August, with expectations of another surge in winter. During the current summer flu season, over 200 severe flu cases, including more than 120 deaths, have been reported, primarily among the elderly.

(Source: Elizabeth Cheung | Sammy Heung | South China Morning Post)

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