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Friday, February 6, 2015, 09:03

HK should step up vaccinations: Experts

By Luis Liu in Hong Kong
HK should step up vaccinations: Experts
A mother and her children, wearing facemasks to prevent getting the flu, at Wan Chai MTR Station on Thursday. (ROY LIU / CHINA DAILY)

Infectious disease experts have urged the government to step up efforts to vaccinate students to confront the deteriorating influenza epidemic in Hong Kong.

Ho Pak-leung, president of the Centre of Infection and Immunity at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), said the government should consider including influenza immunizations in the government’s Childhood Immunization Program so all students can be given the shot at school. This would increase the number of people vaccinated against the flu.

Ho expected the flu epidemic to worsen in the next three to four weeks.

The inoculation rate for the influenza vaccine has remained unchanged over the past 10 years, standing at between 10 to 15 percent, according to Ho, who believes this is far from satisfactory. He urged the government to boost the promotion of health.

Ho also felt schools should consider requiring all students, including those who are not sick, to wear a mask during class.

Leo Poon Lit-man, associate professor of School of Public Health at HKU, said the best way to meet the city’s demand for vaccines is to have them produced locally.

Although the Hong Kong market is small and land prices are high, which made it hard for drug manufacturers to survive financially, there are still chances for local companies, “if they can make their foray into the mainland market,” Poon said.

Purchasing products from foreign companies remains the only solution at present. He urged the government to speed up negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to meet local demand for vaccines.

Chair of Infectious Diseases at HKU Yuen Kwok-yung agreed.

As there was urgent, heightened demand for flu vaccines across the whole Northern Hemisphere, the government has to wait until April to obtain the more effective vaccines from Southern-Hemisphere countries. Yuen said a flu vaccine manufacturing base should be built in Hong Kong or in the south of the mainland.

A nasal spray, now popular in Europe, should be imported and produced locally to make flu immunization simpler, he said.

Yuen also warned that there may be another more serious flu outbreak this summer or next winter. He said new vaccines should be available by the time the next flu season hits Hong Kong.

Leung Ting-hung, the controller at Centre for Health Protection, said it was hard to vaccinate all students in such a short timeframe owing to manpower shortages. He advised parents to take their children to private hospitals to get inoculated.

The Department of Health said it welcomed doctors who wanted to offer help and would make arrangements to assist them entering schools to administer the injections.

James Lam Yat-fung, chairman of Hong Kong Subsidized Secondary Schools Council, admitted there had been more teachers and students taken sick during the past month.

He said he would issue a directive to shut down schools or shift holidays if the epidemic escalated.

As principal of the Lions College at Kwai Hing, he had already made certain arrangements. From Friday, the school will require body checks on children’s temperatures and hands at the school gates. He also ordered all students in those classes that have had many infections, to wear masks to prevent the further spread of the flu.
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