Free flu jabs for the elderly urged

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2006, 12:00am

Supplier warns it will be doubling price of vaccine

The Department of Health has been called on to provide free flu vaccinations for people older than 65 after a vaccine supplier indicated it would double prices.

Doctors and pharmacists have been told by one of the three flu vaccine suppliers that the wholesale price for the coming flu season in November will go from $32 to $70 per dose.

The other two suppliers have not yet fixed prices.Hong Kong used 1.2 million doses of flu vaccine last year, with most people getting shots from private doctors.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists said on Tuesday that manufacturers had indicated this year's Hong Kong supply would drop by about 10 per cent due to demand.

Representatives from the Hong Kong Medical Association yesterday met health officials and expressed their concern. The Department of Health is due tomorrow to announce its free flu vaccination programme for 2006-07.

'We worry that some people will be scared off by the rising prices. We will contact all the flu suppliers and make sure Hong Kong will not have a shortage,' association vice-president Louis Shih Tai-cho said.

Dr Shih said he would recommend buying vaccines in bulk to save money.

Spokesman for the H5N1 Concern Group Lo Wing-lok criticised the pharmaceutical companies for price gouging when there is the threat of a flu pandemic.

Dr Lo said that while most private doctors charged between $80 and $120 for a flu vaccination last year, the fee was expected to go up to $150 and $180.

'If the prices keep going up, some elderly people will not come for a vaccination. The Department of Health should provide free vaccinations for everyone over 65, because they are the high-risk group who may develop complications such as pneumonia,' he said.

Dr Lo said the department should at least double the number of free vaccines to 500,000 with the aim of protecting 70 per cent of the elderly.

Dr Shih said the Medical Association also supported free vaccinations for the elderly.

at risk

The following groups are recommended to get flu jabs:

Long-stay residents of institutions for the disabled and the elderly

People aged 65 and above

People with chronic illnesses

Health-care workers

Poultry industry workers

Children aged six months to 23 months

Pregnant women

Source: The Centre for Health Protection