Hong Kong and Macao temporarily suspended Covid vaccines made by BioNTech SE due to a packaging defect, dealing a blow to cities’ efforts to revive their pandemic-hit economies.
Both governments said Wednesday they received notifications about packaging defects in vials of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., which has the rights to develop and market the injections in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have launched an investigation into the problem and say there is no reason to believe the product’s safety is at risk, according to the Macau government statement.
The suspension marks the latest setback for Hong Kong’s launch of the vaccine, which has been held back by public distrust of the Beijing-backed government. While the acceptance of BioNTech’s jab had begun to exceed that of the shots fired by the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd., concerns around packaging defect run the risk of eroding public confidence in both options.
Hong Kong’s business and banking community has been pushing for the city to relax some of the world’s toughest coronavirus containment measures, but the government has been hesitant to do so until vaccination rates are increased. As of Monday, about 5% of residents of the financial center had received their first vaccinations.
Macau casinos led declines in the MSCI Hong Kong index on Wednesday, with Wynn Macau Ltd. and Sands China Ltd. sinking more than 4%. Hong Kong property developers, among the stocks most sensitive to the local economy, also slumped.
Residents have enrolled in droves for BioNTech vaccines since Hong Kong expanded adult eligibility. Aged 30-59 earlier this month, an effort to increase vaccination rates to the levels necessary to fully reopen the economy.
Confusion reigned in some vaccination points in the city on Wednesday morning. At the Ap Lei Chau Sports Center, staff first told people waiting in line that shooting for the day would be called off. They then reopened the center only to close it again in the span of about an hour. At that time, many people with first dates had already been attacked.
Outside the vaccination center, confused residents, some of whom had just received their vaccinations, asked staff what was happening, only to get answers that the reason for the suspension was unclear.
– With the assistance of Young-Sam Cho and Natalie Lung