Hong Kong recorded its first case of a patient experiencing facial paralysis after being vaccinated for Covid-19 last week, officials revealed on Friday, while taking pains to stress that the city’s incidence rate of possible side effects from the jabs was not abnormally high.
The 69-year-old man with a history of hypertension received the Sinovac vaccine on March 6, and began developing Bell’s palsy symptoms around two hours after getting jabbed.
But the case was only disclosed on Friday by the Department of Health in a report that recorded a total of 71 instances of adverse events following vaccinations between the launch of the city’s mass inoculation scheme in late February and Sunday – a rate of about 0.07 per cent among more than 93,000 doses administered.
Most of the adverse events, which have not yet been definitively linked to the jabs, involved the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine – 69 cases out of 91,818 doses administered – while two concerned the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, of which 1,207 doses had been injected as of Sunday.
A total of 30 men and 17 women included in the report, aged 30 to 90, were sent to hospital after experiencing fatigue, dizziness and even a stroke.
The reports of the potential adverse effects have contributed to the vaccination drive’s rocky start, coinciding with a recent rise in the number of no-shows for inoculation appointments.
Four deaths have so far been recorded among people who had recently received the Sinovac jab, the first two of which – involving a 63-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman, both with chronic diseases – were included in Friday’s report. An expert committee on vaccine reactions had earlier concluded that neither death was directly linked to the vaccines.
The report, however, did not include the other two more recent fatalities, which involved a 71-year-old man with no record of chronic illness, and a 70-year-old woman with a history of hypertension and osteoarthritis who passed away nine days after receiving the jab.
Officials said on Friday that initial autopsy results for the 71-year-old man showed his death might have been related to cardiovascular issues.
The expert committee is expected to discuss his death during a meeting on Monday, along with other instances of potential side effects, including the ones involving Bell’s palsy and the stroke.
The 69-year-old man who suffered from facial paralysis first reported feeling discomfort in his left eye and could not close it completely shortly after receiving the vaccine. By the next morning he was drooling from the left side of his mouth, and visited a hospital.
He was later discharged on March 8. Officials did not disclose the man’s condition, but according to the US’ National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bell’s palsy is usually temporary, and improves over a matter of weeks or months.
Frank Chan Ling-fung, an assistant director of the health department, said on Friday that authorities were unable to conclude whether the man’s case was directly linked to the vaccine, adding they were seeking more information, such as his medical history.
“We do not have enough information currently to conclude what [the causes] were,” Chan told reporters during a briefing on the report.
The case of the suspected stroke involved a 74-year-old man who was provisionally diagnosed after suffering from left-sided weakness and slurred speech on March 7. He has a history of diabetes and high blood pressure, and had received the Sinovac jab on March 1.
Meanwhile, an analysis by officials of the number of cases involving potential side effects after vaccination found that Hong Kong’s incidence rate was about 7.6 reports received per 10,000 doses. That was lower than the 39.9 reported in Britain, the 38.2 logged in Singapore and the 23.4 seen in Australia.
Chan, however, stressed that as each country’s vaccination programme and reporting criteria varied, the figures could not be compared directly.
Asked about a number of European countries recently suspending the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots in those who received it, Chan said health authorities were “concerned” about the developments and would be asking the manufacturer for more details.
Health authorities on Friday still had not released new guidelines explaining which conditions should prevent residents from receiving a Covid-19 jab, despite pressure from doctors and patients’ groups. A medical source had previously said the guidelines would be finalised by Friday to address public concerns.