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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The High Death Rate in Hong Kong Demonstrates the Importance of Immunization for the Elderly

Upon discovering that the Omicron variety had penetrated Hong Kong’s coronavirus barriers for the first time, in late 2021, the city responded swiftly and effectively, establishing the city as one of the world’s most robust bastions of “zero Covid.”

However, Omicron returned to the city a few weeks later, this time creating an epidemic among cleaners at a public housing estate that quickly spiralled out of control. In recent years, the firestorm of resultant cases has resulted in the deaths of more individuals than in nearly any other nation since the coronavirus first appeared.

Over the course of the epidemic, Hong Kong’s death toll per capita, which was formerly much lower than that of Western countries, is no longer considered unique. Americans were dying from Covid at a rate that was 90 times higher than that of persons in Hong Kong only a month earlier. By Monday, the total toll in the United States had increased by three and a half times.

Despite the fact that the United States is preparing for its own, less punishing rise in cases, and that mainland China is dealing with its largest outbreak in two years, scientists have looked to Hong Kong for clues about the threat Omicron poses in an entirely different setting: a dense city where people were not only largely unaffected by previous infections, but whose oldest and most vulnerable residents were also largely unvaccinated.

Vaccinating a large proportion of the population remained critical in the period of Omicron and its even more virulent subvariant, BA.2, according to experts. However, inoculating as many senior individuals as possible had quickly risen to the top of the priority list.

According to the authors, this message was particularly important for China, where immunizations in older age groups looked to be lagging as well as a lack of protection from previous illnesses.

However, it was also important in the United States, where low vaccination and booster rates among the elderly have caused experts to be worried about a possible increase in BA.2 infections. Scientists do not anticipate the United States to confront a scenario as bad as Hong Kong in the future months, in part because so many more Americans have been infected and died by the coronavirus during prior waves.

Hong Kong’s horrific epidemic also serves as a warning about the dangers of attempting to eradicate the virus without a clear strategy for what would follow next, according to health experts. They said that because of Omicron’s strong transmissibility, epidemics were nearly unavoidable.

Since only a small percentage of Hong Kong’s residents had any immunity from previous infections, the territory, along with mainland China, was left vulnerable. Hong Kong and mainland China had been among the final holdouts of a strategy of strict restrictions and border controls to eradicate the virus. The virus was thought to have infected just 1% of Hong Kong’s population prior to the Omicron outbreak, according to experts.

Because of the low levels of protection, areas might become exposed to outbreaks of disease if more infectious variations enter the population or limitations are eased. However, Dr. Gabriel Leung, the dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, believes that governments can still prepare for the next waves.

Before the outbreak of Omicron, less than one-quarter of persons aged 80 and older in Hong Kong had received two doses of a vaccination, compared to more than 90 percent of those in Singapore and New Zealand.

People in Hong Kong have been inundated with the Chinese vaccination Sinovac, which seems to provide only little protection against Omicron infections but provides superior protection against severe sickness. Almost 90 percent of those who died during the most recent wave were not completely vaccinated, indicating that providing injections to the most susceptible is more crucial than the specific kind of vaccine.

In response to signs that cases would increase, Dr. Cowling of the University of Hong Kong said his city could have taken one of two approaches: either double down on “zero Covid” by taking measures such as improving quarantine facilities for overseas arrivals, or acknowledge that outbreaks are unavoidable and raise vaccination rates. Dr. Cowling is a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong.

After prior inducements like as immunisation passes failed to convince elderly people to be vaccinated, Hong Kong adopted initiatives to encourage them to do so. Earlier this year, the government stated that unvaccinated persons will no longer be permitted to dine in dim sum restaurants, which are particularly popular among the elderly. However, it was too late.

Summer was the first month when Singapore started dropping its “zero Covid” regulations. The Delta variety, according to Dr. Ooi Eng Eong, an infectious disease specialist at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, was responsible for raising vaccination rates and dispelling the myth that individuals did not need protection.

Despite this, even after five or six waves of the epidemic, the reasons why certain nations have fared better than others remain a source of conjecture.

Scientists say that Japan, for example, has kept the number of infections down during the epidemic without resorting to full-fledged lockdowns, which is unusual.

Because the administration of the nation shared excellent public health information early in the epidemic, the country benefitted from it. Despite the fact that locals were weary of warnings, Taro Yamamoto, a professor at Nagasaki University’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, noted that they followed the advise seriously in the majority of cases.

In Japan, over 80% of the population has received their first set of vaccines. However, despite the fact that the nation has lagged behind in giving booster doses and has seen an increase in Omicron infections, fatality rates during Omicron have remained much lower than in neighbouring South Korea throughout the outbreak.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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