Hong Kong’s Nursing Homes Are Unvaccinated Hotbeds of Covid
Just 15% of elderly residents in Hong Kong’s care homes are fully vaccinated, about one-sixth the coverage in the U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- Just 15% of elderly residents in Hong Kong’s care homes are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, about one-sixth the coverage in the U.S., despite evidence from early in the pandemic that such facilities are hotbeds for disease and death.
The vaccination rate for other Hong Kong seniors is higher, at 45%, which still significantly lags many advanced economies. Singapore has immunized about 95% of its seniors, while roughly 90% of South Korea’s elderly have received booster shots.
The lack of protection is already casting a pall over the city, where more than 1,100 people have died since a wave of infection driven by the highly-infectious delta and omicron variants formed at the end of 2021. Most of the deaths occurred in the unprotected elderly, with a death rate of almost 6% in those aged 80 or older who weren’t fully immunized. The only other group with a case fatality rate above 1% is unvaccinated elderly aged 70 to 79, according to the government.
The low vaccination rate for elderly residents of Hong Kong’s care homes means they’re even more vulnerable as the number of omicron cases soars, a forecast from researchers at the University of Hong Kong found. Already more than 700 residential care facilities -- housing both elderly and disabled people -- have reported Covid cases.
Hong Kong reported more than 56,000 new daily infections on Thursday. A health official said hundreds of thousands of people could be testing positive on rapid-antigen tests, which aren’t currently included in the tally. Authorities announced 144 deaths, with most of the fatalities elderly people.
The researchers including Gabriel Leung, the dean of medicine and a public health professor, estimated that Hong Kong could have about 4,645 fatalities during the current outbreak. The elderly are expected to bear the brunt of the deaths.
Hong Kong has struggled with vaccine hesitancy among seniors since it launched an immunization program last year. Few elderly people got shots in 2021 amid fears that they may be more vulnerable to side effects. The government’s successful Covid Zero strategy also removed any urgency, as there was no penalty for complacency thanks to low infection rates before omicron slammed the city.
It’s not to late to save some of those seniors, the researchers said.
Their forecast of fatalities by the end of April, which ranged from a low of about 3,140 to a high of more than 5,560, was based on an assumption that there would be no rapid, dramatic improvement in vaccination of the institutionalized elderly.
The report didn’t say how may deaths could be averted by an emergency effort to close the vaccination gap between seniors in care homes and others.
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