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People in mainland China can now book BioNTech’s mRNA COVID shot—but they may have to go to Hong Kong to get it

December 28, 2022, 7:25 AM UTC
People in Hong Kong wait at a COVID vaccination center
Hong Kong is one of the few places in China that offers BioNTech's COVID shot, which is still unapproved in mainland China.
Lam Yik—Bloomberg via Getty Images

BioNTech SE’s Chinese partner has started allowing mainland Chinese to register for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in Hong Kong ahead of a border reopening early next month that may spark a wave of visitors to the financial hub.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. is letting people register for the shot through its app and online, with the company asking users for their personal details and whether they’ve recently recovered from COVID. Fosun, which distributes the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, didn’t respond to Bloomberg News’ emailed request for more details of the program.

While the mRNA shot has formed the backbone of COVID vaccination campaigns across the world, it remains in regulatory limbo in mainland China, which hasn’t given it the green light and instead relies on homegrown vaccines for its 1.4 billion people. China is grappling with the world’s biggest outbreak—the country’s health regulator estimated nearly 37 million people may have been infected in a single day last week—after the rapid dismantling of COVID-zero restrictions spurred a surge in virus cases.

The major flareup has sparked a push to vaccinate the vulnerable elderly, but could also boost interest in getting inoculated while traveling. Some mainland Chinese residents received an mRNA shot in Macau, the only place where they could travel to without having to quarantine upon their return. Visitors would need to pay out of pocket, with the Financial Times reporting one couple paid $170 each for a dose. 

Expectations are building that Hong Kong may see a wave of visitors from China from Jan. 8, when the mainland removes all quarantine for inbound travelers, restarts issuing Hong Kong travel permits and resumes express checkpoints on its borders with the financial hub. Still, it’s unclear how many may be eligible for a shot given the wave of cases on the mainland, with health authorities recommending people wait six months after their infection for their next shot. 

The Hong Kong government said last week that residents will be given priority for receiving the bivalent vaccine for free, while non-residents remain eligible for the ancestral-strain vaccine and the non-mRNA CoronaVac shot at no cost. Some non-residents who meet certain requirements may also be able to get the bivalent vaccine for free. Non-residents may also pay to get vaccinated at private doctors, clinics and hospitals. 

Fosun Pharm shipped 11,500 doses of the mRNA vaccine this month to be administered exclusively for German expatriates in China, under a deal brokered during German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to China in early November. It’s unclear when, or if, the shot will be approved for wider use in China. 

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