Poor vaccine coverage among the elderly population results in Hong Kong reporting the highest death rate in the world.
As Hong Kong reports tens of thousands of coronavirus cases each day, the city’s large population of unvaccinated elderly residents has resulted in the highest official death rate per capita of any jurisdiction during the pandemic.
Only about 30 percent of Hong Kong residents over 80 have been double vaccinated despite vaccines being freely available for more than a year, amid widespread vaccine hesitancy among the elderly.
Of 2,365 COVID-19 deaths in the city’s fifth wave so far, 87 percent were aged 60 or above and about 90 percent were not fully vaccinated.
Many of the deaths have occurred in the city’s aged care facilities, 87 percent of which have reported infections, involving 16,200 residents and 4,470 staff members.
Though Hong Kong kept COVID-19, the highly transmissible Omicron variant eventually broke through the city’s defenses, which have included some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.
The resulting surge in infections has overwhelmed the public healthcare system, stretching the capacity of isolation wards, intensive care facilities, and mortuaries to their limit.
Patients are routinely turned away from hospitals, while high-risk elderly admissions have been left waiting outside, sometimes in the cold.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said her administration is hoping to provide at least one dose of vaccine to all residents at care homes by next Friday.
“Recent moves to push up the vaccination rate should have come last year”, said Siddharth Sridhar (a clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong).
“You have to give the immune system some time to respond to the vaccine,” Sridhar told.
“Elderly are now in a race against the virus. Many of them are unfortunately contracting COVID before they are able to form any response, which ideally takes at least two doses against a divergent variant like Omicron.”
Sridhar said authorities should focus on identifying and treating infections early before they progress to cases of severe disease.
Such an approach would require logistical changes, such as sending healthcare professionals to care homes instead of having patients come to hospitals.