Hong Kong’s vaccine advisory panel recommended giving a partial dose of BioNTech SE’s adult COVID shot to younger children, resorting to an “off-label use” amid supply shortages for a pediatric formulation.
The experts suggested children age 5 to 11 receive 10 micrograms of the German-made shots, which is one-third of the adult dose. The move would “facilitate the timely extension” of vaccine coverage for those age groups, the government advisers said in a statement on Wednesday.
Hong Kong is working to contain the first community outbreak of COVID-19 in more than seven months. While health officials are sending hundreds of close contacts to quarantine and requiring tests for thousands of people, they are also urging vaccination. Young children can’t get the BioNTech shot because Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, the local distributor, hasn’t applied for approval.
“It’s a supply issue,” said David Hui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and member of the expert group. “Even the U.K. can’t get the pediatric formulation.”
The panel reviewed the available information on the shot known as Comirnaty, which is already approved for everyone 12 and older. Because it’s not formally cleared for those age 5 to 11, and only a portion of the full adult dose would be administered, it would technically be given in what’s known as an “off-label” manner.
“Having reviewed the relevant efficacy and safety data published, the Advisory Panel suggested allowing children aged five to 11 to receive a fractional dose of the Comirnaty vaccine for adults for ‘off-label use,’” according to the statement.
The government will continue to follow up with Fosun Pharma on extending the age eligibility, a spokesperson said. Fosun didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vaccines from Sinovac Biotech Ltd., the other inoculation dispensed in the city, received a greenlight from health officials for children as young as three in November.
The unorthodox suggestion underscores the urgency for Hong Kong to vaccinate its younger populations as the city sticks to a COVID Zero strategy aimed at eliminating all cases in the community. The government announced closures for primary schools and kindergartens this week, as it fears that a local omicron outbreak could reach unvaccinated kids and spread further.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said vaccinations for children aged five and above will take place at schools after students return to in-person classes after the Lunar New Year holidays in February.
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