Government announces prevention and control measures and vaccination arrangements in new phase of resumption of normalcy
With the local epidemic situation continuing to subside, the management measures being aligned with upper respiratory tract illnesses, and social and economic activities resuming to full normalcy, the Government announced today (March 31) a new phase of prevention and control measures and vaccination arrangements.
In response to the latest consensus interim recommendations made by the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases under the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health in conjunction with the Chief Executive's expert advisory panel on March 29 regarding the use of COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong, people belonging to the priority groups (i.e. older adults aged 50 or above including those living in residential care homes, persons aged 18 to 49 years with underlying comorbidities, persons aged 6 months or above and with immunocompromising conditions, pregnant women and healthcare workers) should receive another vaccine booster in 2023 with a dosing interval of at least six months after the last dose or COVID-19 infection (whichever is later). People who do not belong to any priority groups can be effectively protected as long as they have received a total of three doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
In light of the experts' advice, the Government announced the following arrangements for the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme 2023:
(1) People belonging to the following priority groups can receive an additional vaccine booster six months after their last dose or COVID-19 infection (whichever is later) free of charge in 2023, regardless of the number of vaccine doses they received in the past:
- individuals aged 50 or above (including elderly living in residential care homes);
- persons aged 18 to 49 years with underlying comorbidities;
- persons aged 6 months or above and with immunocompromising conditions;
- pregnant women; and
- healthcare workers.
(2) For those who aged 6 months or above and not belonging to any of the aforementioned priority groups, they can continue to receive the first three doses of COVID-19 vaccine free of charge if they have never been infected with COVID-19. The Government calls on all members of the public, in particular infants and small children aged 6 months or above, who have not received the first three doses of vaccine to get vaccinated as early as possible for self-protection even if they do not belong to any priority groups.
The Government is making enhancements to the computer system in order to support the aforementioned vaccination service of additional vaccine booster starting from April 20. Eligible individuals who need to receive an additional vaccine booster can make a booking through the website (booking.covidvaccine.gov.hk/forms/index.jsp) starting from 9am on April 20. Eligible children aged 5 to 11 (Note) may also visit Children Community Vaccination Centres to receive the third dose of vaccine starting from today without prior booking. Other members of the public who have yet to complete the first three doses of vaccines can make a booking online at any time. Individuals aged 50 or above and children aged below 18 may also visit Community Vaccination Centres to get vaccinated through walk-in services.
Starting from April 20, members of the public wishing to receive vaccine boosters exceeding the above specified free doses under the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme 2023 will need to get the vaccine in the private market at their own expense following the arrangement for seasonal influenza vaccines. Those who have made a booking before April 20 for vaccination are not affected.
Since September last year, the Government has gradually consolidated the service network of COVID-19 vaccination and adopted a more flexible and more cost-effective strategy involving collaboration with private medical organisations and making good use of different venues. The Government will further adjust the vaccination services and venues and announce the relevant arrangements at a later time. Information on vaccination services and venues can be found on the designated website for the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme (www.covidvaccine.gov.hk/en/programme).
On the other hand, in view that the demand for Home Vaccination Service has drastically decreased, the relevant service will stop accepting new registrations starting from April 15. For eligible individuals who wish to receive COVID-19 vaccines via the service but have yet to register, they should register as soon as possible before the deadline by calling the hotline (5688 5234) or visiting the website (eform.cefs.gov.hk/form/homevaccine/en/). The hotline and website will cease operation starting from 6pm on April 14.
Starting from April 1, the co-ordinating role of the new phase of the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme will be handed over from the Civil Service Bureau to the Health Bureau and the Department of Health.
Eight public health emergency regulations made by the Government under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599) (covering inbound control measures, social distancing measures, compulsory testing, and provision of information relevant to prevention and control of the epidemic, etc) (Cap. 599C to Cap. 599J) will expire today (March 31) at midnight (i.e. from April 1 onwards). The remaining anti-epidemic measure implemented under those regulations will also be removed at the same time. The two remaining vaccination-related public health emergency regulations (Cap. 599K and Cap. 599L) under Cap. 599 will remain for vaccination-related prevention and control measures.
A Government spokesman said, "We will continue to closely monitor the situation of COVID-19 variants and assess the risks, with a protection focus on the high risk groups. We will also keep track of the latest assessment of the World Health Organization on the epidemic situation."
Note: For children aged 5 to 11 who have received two doses of Comirnaty vaccine, there should be a dosing interval of at least five months since the administration of the last dose of vaccine.
Ends/Friday, March 31, 2023