Macau suspends BioNTech jabs over ‘packaging defects’

2021-03-25 03:16     Comment:0

The Macau government yesterday suspended administering Germany’s BioNTech mRNA vaccines due to “packaging defects” until further notice.

BioNTech jabs in Macau are distributed by Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma.

The government’s Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre announced the suspension in a statement yesterday morning, which said that the Macau Health Bureau (SSM) had just been informed in writing by Fosun Industrial Company Limited in Hong Kong that “packaging defects” were detected in the vial caps of the mRNA Comirnaty vaccines (validity period until June 2021) produced by BioNTech in Lot No. 210102.

The statement said that BioNTech and Fosun Pharma had started to investigate the cause of the problem, having decided to immediately suspend the vaccination.

The statement also said that BioNTech and Fosun Pharma were convinced that the product does not pose a health risk. However, as a precautionary measure, inoculations with vaccines from Lot No. 210102 needed to be suspended until the investigation has been completed, the statement said.

The statement stressed that the preventive measure aimed to ensure vaccination safety, adding that all the mRNA jabs delivered to Macau are part of Lot No. 210102. Consequently, the statement said, the administration of the vaccines has been suspended until further notice.

Those who have made an appointment for their first BioNTech jab and those who are slated to get their second jab after having had their first jab received an SMS yesterday morning from the Health Bureau, which said that the “mRNA vaccine you have booked has been suspended from today due to packaging issues.”

“There is no need to go to the vaccination point, the new vaccination date [is] to be advised,” the English-language message added. The message was also issued in Macau’s two official languages, Chinese and Portuguese, depending on which language the user had chosen for SMS messages from the bureau.

The centre said in a follow-up statement yesterday afternoon that BioNTech and Fosun Pharma requested the Hong Kong and Macau governments yesterday morning to immediately suspend inoculations with BioNTech jabs. The statement said that the Macau Heath Bureau discussed the matter with Fosun Pharma in an online meeting yesterday morning, when the company’s representatives stressed that Fosun was merely requesting the suspension of the vaccines, which was not a measure to recall the jabs in Lot No. 210102.

Loose vial caps

The statement said that the “packaging defects” mainly involved loose aluminium vial caps. “The packaging defects are mainly due to the fact that the aluminium caps on the vials are not properly tightened, because of which the caps could be loosened in some occasions,” the statement said.

The statement underlined that before administering COVID-19 jabs, the Health Bureau’s medical workers will always carefully check the vaccine package for possible abnormalities. If they detect abnormalities, the jabs will not be used, the statement said.

Contingency plan

The statement pledged that the Health Bureau will maintain close communication with the BioNTech jab supplier for a contingency plan if the mRNA jabs in Lot No. 210102 cannot be used, with the aim of enabling Macau to resume its inoculations with BioNTech vaccines, which would consist of two possible solutions, namely delivering jabs from other batches that are currently in Hong Kong to Macau, or an emergency shipment of newly-produced doses from Germany.

The statement also said that as of Tuesday, a total of 6,215 BioNTech doses had been administered in Macau. In addition, 5,393 people had made an appointment to be inoculated with BioNTech jabs, comprising 1,520 people who were waiting for their first jab and 3,873 people who were waiting for their second jab after having had their first shot already.

The Macau government’s COVID-19 vaccination drive started on February 9 with Sinopharm inactivated jabs covering those in priority groups such as those working on the frontline against COVID-19 and those working in occupations that are subject to a high COVID-19 risk. Inoculations for all local residents started on February 22. The inoculations with BioNTech mRNA vaccines started on March 3.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government also suspended its BioNTech vaccinations due to “packaging defects” in one of the batches of the vaccines, Lot No. 210102. Two batches of BioNTech vaccines were delivered to Hong Kong from Germany, with the other batch being Lot No. 210104. 

Unlike in other parts of the world, US pharma company Pfizer is not distributing the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong and Macau, with Fosun Pharma being the distributor for the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

Health Bureau (SSM) staff move containers of BioNTech mRNA vaccines to the public Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre’s storage facility late last month after unloading them from a chiller lorry following their delivery from Germany via Hong Kong. Photo: Iong Tat Choi

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