(Editor's note: this article is first published at Annie Lab, a fact-checking project by Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong and Asian Network of News and Information Educators (ANNIE), and was written by Zeerak Khurram and Robin Hibberd.)
Annie Lab’s visual analysis shows the syringe used to inoculate the Chief Executive was filled from a Sinovac vial. It was not a prefilled syringe made by a European manufacturer as the rumor implies.
In the hours following Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s widely publicized first inoculation of a COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 22, various posts on social media began circulating with claims that Lam has not been inoculated with the vaccine developed by Sinovac, a Chinese biopharmaceutical firm.
Those posts, written in Chinese and English, suggest because the syringe used on Lam was longer and thinner than the type of short one from Sinovac, she was not given the mainland-manufactured vaccine.
The posts and user comments imply it was possibly the vaccine made by German biotech company BioNtech or British–Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca, both of which were not formally available in Hong Kong at the time.
Similar claims have been spreading widely in the city with some posts getting thousands of engagements within a day.
In the post above, for example, former legislative councilor Andrew Wan Siu-kin encircles the short, prefilled syringes manufactured by Sinovac and implies that the longer, thinner syringe and the vial in the hands of the medical worker look more like the ones from the other two manufacturers’ vaccine products.
Other social media posts shown below also make the same claim and similar visual comparisons.
Annie Lab looked into the allegation and can confirm that the syringe used to inoculate the Chief Executive was filled from what appears to be a Sinovac vial.
Photos posted on Sinovac’s official website and also a report by Hong Kong’s Advisory Panel indicate their COVID-19 vaccines are distributed not only in prefilled syringes but also in vials as shown below (a red circle added by Annie Lab).
Screenshots of livestreamed videos of Lam’s vaccination from local news outlets clearly show the vial held by the medical personnel has an orange cap. The label printed on the vial also matches with that of Sinovac vaccine (shown in the image on top of this article).
On the other hand, the vial made by Fosun Pharma/BionNTech has a purple-colored cap. AstraZeneca’s vial comes with a red-colored cap.
Sinovac’s label also has transparent background whereas the other two manufacturers use opaque labeling with white background, as shown below (circles added by Annie Lab).
As listed in the application for authorization to the Hong Kong government, the COVID-19 vaccine product the government procured from Sinovac indeed comes in the form of vials.
Wan, a member of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong who posted the claim on Facebook discussed in this article, later commented to clarify that he learned from the government that Sinovac’s vaccines come in two different kinds of packaging.
A variant of the claim on Facebook compared images of the Chief Executives of Hong Kong and Macao and said the syringe used for Carrie Lam’s jab is longer than the one for Ho lat Seng; therefore, the Chief Executive of Macao has gotten “the real Sinovac” while Lam’s one was not.
This claim is also false. Ho was not given a Sinovac vaccine. It was made by another Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm, according to the Macao government and news reports, including this article by the Standard on Feb. 10.
Ho received the jab when the first Sinopharm vaccine shipment arrived in Macao.
Hong Kong began its COVID-19 vaccination program on Feb. 23. The first vaccine to be offered to the public is the one manufactured by Sinovac.
The government has announced plans to offer other vaccines in due course with the Fosun Pharma/BioNTech vaccine expected to be the second brand to be available for Hong Kong citizens.
The efficacy and safety of different COVID-19 vaccines have been a topic of public discussion in the city.
The Hong Kong leader’s choice of vaccine brand was of heightened public interest, especially because the government officials are reportedly under increasing pressure to demonstrate loyalty to China.
On Feb. 22, a few hours after Lam had been vaccinated, the government condemned the internet rumors with the same or similar claims.
In Turkey, a similar claim circulated about the jab taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Social media users said it was not a Sinovac vaccine because it came in a vial and not in a syringe. Turkish fact-checking organization TeyitTeyit debunked the claim.
Disclaimer: Although faculty members at the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong have done everything possible to verify the accuracy of the story, we cannot guarantee there are no mistakes. If you notice an error or have any questions, please email us.