Facebook is teaming up with the Hong Kong government, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to push vaccination propaganda to its citizens. Less than 20 percent of Hongkongers are fully vaccinated despite the availability of supplies due to distrust of the authorities and concerns about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine side effects.
Facebook plans to introduce two new features to its platform in Hong Kong. One will encourage people to get inoculated, while the other will offer a convenient booking service for getting a jab.
Users will be able to share their vaccination status through profile picture options, with new picture filters with phrases such as “Let’s get Vaccinated!” and “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!” Users will also be informed about their eligibility and the nearest government vaccination site.
“As one of Hong Kong’s most-used social platforms, we are very happy to work with the Department of Health to make it easier for the public to obtain information about vaccines and how to receive vaccinations, and to more easily share their support for vaccination with others,” Facebook’s publicity manager for the region said to Hong Kong Free Press.
Hong Kong’s vaccination drive has been running since late February. In the coming weeks, Facebook will promote its new features atop the news feed in Hong Kong. The COVID-19 features have already been made available in India and the United States.
Data from the Hong Kong government shows that 1,636,406 citizens in the region have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine as of June 10, accounting for 24.9 percent of the total population. Only 17.5 percent, or 1,150,701 people, have received both doses.
Hong Kong has secured 7.5 million doses of the China-made Sinovac vaccine and 7.5 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech. In January, researchers from Brazil had concluded that Sinovac only had an efficacy rate of 50.4 percent, compared to Pfizer-BioNTech’s claim of 95 percent.
Avoiding inoculation, wasting vaccines
Last year, the CCP imposed the National Security Law in Hong Kong, which allows the regime to charge pro-democracy and human rights activists with secession, terrorism, subversion, and collusion with foreign elements. In addition, Beijing has tightened its grip on several of Hong Kong’s institutions.
The actions have bred considerable distrust among citizens. In an interview with Wall Street Journal (WSJ), 25-year-old waitress Jaxo Cheung stated that she had no plans of getting inoculated. As a strong supporter of the anti-government protests, Cheung did not want to cooperate with the administration.
Cheung lost her job after she refused her employer’s mandate to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “I don’t care… I will never get the vaccine; it’s the way I can keep on protesting,” she said to WSJ.
Citizens have also cited concerns about severe side effects. On April 11, authorities confirmed 14 deaths and 13 cases of facial paralysis after Chinese Sinovac vaccine doses. The administration recently lowered the vaccination age limit from 16 to 12. However, parents remain cautious about giving their children experimental therapies.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Clifton Chong from the Hong Kong Parents League for Education Renovation said that the potential side effects discouraged parents. “Even if the rate of severe side effects is low… we don’t expect that to be zero, and parents will still have to prepare for the worst,” Chong said to the media outlet.
Vaccination rates among the elderly, who are considered to be the most vulnerable, are also low according to a report by Global Voices. In the 60 to 69 age group, only 14.8 percent have received the first dose. The number is even lower for ages 70 to 79 at 5.1 percent.
Some politicians have urged the government to adopt more coercive measures. Lawmaker Julius Ho asked the government to establish a deadline for people to get vaccinated, after which they would have to pay HK$10,000 for a shot. Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chunying asked the administration to impose “sanctions” on people who refuse vaccination by making them “pay the price.”
With most people choosing not to get inoculated, millions of vaccines will edge closer to their expiration dates. Hong Kong is one of the few nations in the world that has secured vaccines for all of its over 7.5 million citizens.
“The vaccines all have expiry dates… They cannot be used after the expiry date and the community vaccination centers for BioNTech (Pfizer vaccine) will, according to present plans, cease operating after September,” Thomas Tsang, a former controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said in an interview with RTHK radio.