According to the latest government data, three-quarters of the 1,669 deaths from COVID-19 in Hong Kong between Jan. 1 and March 31, 1,269 were vaccinated. Thirty-three had been vaccinated within 14 days before passing. The total COVID-19 deaths recorded in January was 1,526, and 143 between Jan 30 and March 31.
The Hong Kong government removed the vaccine mandate requirement on Dec. 29, 2022, and removed all COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 30.
A breakdown shows that in January, there were 361 (24 percent) cases that were un-vaccinated, 76 (five percent) received one shot, 151 (ten percent) received two shots, 770 (50 percent) received three shots, and 168 (11 percent) received four shots. That is, of the 1,526 deaths, in January, 361 (24 percent) people were unvaccinated, and 1,165 (76 percent) were vaccinated with between one and four shots.
According to CivicSight, in April 2023, a public member submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health (DOH), seeking information about COVID-related deaths and the vaccination status of those who had passed away between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2023. As per the government’s response, out of the total cases reported, 400 people (24 percent) were not vaccinated. In addition, 84 (5 percent) had received one vaccine dose, 172 (10 percent) had taken two doses, 829 (50 percent) had taken three, and 184 (11 percent) had taken four.
Among the fatalities reported between Jan. 1 and Jan. 29, 33 individuals received the COVID-19 vaccine within 14 days of passing. Among these individuals, seven had received a single dose, five had received two doses, five had received three doses, and 16 had received four doses of the vaccine.
The DOH data shows that since the vaccination program started on Feb. 26, 2021, up until Feb. 28, 2023, approximately 20.7 million doses of the COVID vaccine had been administered. During this timeframe, the DOH has received reports of adverse events following immunization (AEFI), resulting in 120 deaths. The deceased individuals were 79 males and 41 females, aged 34 to 101 years old, and had received the vaccine within 14 days before death. Of these cases, 78 individuals had received the Sinovac vaccine, while 42 had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
However, the Department of Health (DOH) pointed out that the expert committee has thoroughly reviewed the information regarding the patient’s medical condition and history, relevant clinical data, vaccine-related information, and autopsy findings. In addition, they considered the World Health Organization’s (WHO) algorithm for causality assessment. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccination has not been causally linked to any cases.
The Expert Committee has summarized the causality assessment of 119 deaths, 117 were deemed inconsistent (no causality), and two were inconclusive (causality could not be established) with the vaccination. As for the remaining case, the Committee has tentatively concluded that there is no causal relationship with the vaccination. However, the final determination can only be made after analyzing the autopsy report.
Hong Kong’s Indemnity Fund for COVID-19 Vaccines (AEFI Fund) Issued Compensation for 2 Fatal Cases
In 2021, the government allocated HK$1 billion (US$127 million) to establish an “Indemnity Fund for COVID-19 Vaccines (AEFI Fund)” (AEFI Fund) for “serious adverse events following immunization (AEFI),” including deaths and serious injuries, following vaccination with the COVID vaccine to provide immediate financial assistance to eligible persons who can provide relevant evidence.
Although the Hong Kong government’s statement so far is that there are still no deaths related to the COVID-19 vaccinations, as of Feb. 28, 2023, the AEFI fund has granted HK$2 million (US$255,000) to each of the two death cases. Two cases included a 66-year-old woman who passed away in May 2022 due to myocarditis and received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 16 days before her death and a 74-year-old man who died the same day after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and was also awarded $2 million (US$255,000).
The Co-Convenor of the Expert Committee on Clinical Events Following COVID-19 Immunization, Hong Kong, Ivan HUNG Fan Ngai, explained the case of a 66-year-old woman. He stated that the woman had no underlying chronic illness and, during the autopsy, was discovered to have a “small virus” known as B19 (Parvovirus B19), unrelated to COVID-19 and can cause acute myocarditis. However, as the “small virus” may have been present in the woman’s system for some time, it cannot be conclusively attributed as the cause of myocarditis. The committee suggested that the vaccine was likely injected directly into the vein, causing the vaccine antigen to reach the heart and resulting in vaccine-induced myocarditis.
Another case of a 74-year-old man passed away on the same day as receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in November 2021. An autopsy on the deceased revealed that the cause of death appears to have been a rapid onset, severe allergic reaction, and ischemic heart disease. The post-vaccination observation period showed no signs of sickness, and resuscitation did not indicate any symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. The autopsy report stated that the ischemic heart disease was severe and significantly contributed to the man’s death. However, the Expert Committee noted that a causal relationship between the vaccine and death could not be established.
Slightly Over 10 Percent of the HK$1 Billion Fund Has Been Dispersed as Compensation
As of Feb. 28, the AEFI Fund, as outlined in the government’s “Overview of the AEFI Fund,” has received 1,296 applications and processed 1,215 cases. According to government experts, 889 assessments have been completed, with 505 indicating a potential causal relationship with immunization or being uncertain. The remaining 384 assessments were categorized as not related to vaccination or unclassifiable.
The Fund has approved 456 cases of injury resulting from rapid-onset severe allergic reactions, hospitalization, Bell’s Palsy facial paralysis, myocarditis/pericarditis, erythema multiforme, and other related conditions. The total amount granted for these cases is HK$100.02 million (US$12,700).
In addition, of the 98 deaths, 74 were considered “not related to vaccination” or “unclassifiable,” 12 were rejected for reasons including “AEFI not being reported to the DOH by healthcare practitioners” and “failure to provide relevant supporting documents,” ten are still being processed, and two were approved. A cumulative total of HK$4 million (US$510,000) was approved for two fatal cases.
The total amount of the AEFI Fund issued for fatalities and injuries to the end of February 2023 was $100.05 million (US$12,700), just over ten percent of the $1 billion (US$127 million) allocated at its inception.
Government Plans to Cease the AEFI Fund
On April 20, the government registered three vaccines under the Hong Kong Government COVID-19 Vaccination Programme as Hong Kong pharmaceutical products. These include the Comirnaty ancestral strain vaccine, the Comirnaty bivalent vaccine, and the CoronaVac vaccine. The government plans to cease the AEFI Fund and cancel the emergency use regime. The timeline for the closure of the Fund will be determined based on the progress of COVID-19 vaccine registration and the available safety data on the COVID-19 vaccines.