All under-sixes to get HK$80 flu jab subsidy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am

Parents will receive an HK$80 subsidy on flu shots for children aged six months to six years from participating private doctors under a HK$56 million-a-year expansion of the government's flu vaccination programme from September 1.

But doctors will still be allowed to set additional fees and charges, the government said.

Some 300,000 children will benefit from the programme, which comes after a severe flu season that saw primary schools shut down early for Easter.

Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said: 'The average cost of buying the vaccination from the private clinics is HK$65 to HK$70, so HK$80 should be enough to cover all the current prices of the various suppliers.'

Centre for Health Protection controller Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said the centre hoped that the vaccination programme would reduce the number of children sent to hospital.

Hospital Authority figures show the annual average rate of admissions to hospital for influenza and pneumonia from 1998 to last year was 172.3 per 10,000 for children aged under 2 years and 136.6 per 10,000 for children aged 2 to 5 years.

Children just over six years old are eligible for the subsidy if they are still in kindergarten. Those who have never received the vaccination will require two doses and will be entitled to the subsidy for both, a total of HK$160.

Parents can use the subsidy from November 1 to March 31, giving private doctors enough of time to purchase enough vaccine. The government will begin registering doctors for participation on September 30.

'It is not the government's intention to set doctors' fees and charges,' a Health Department spokesman said. But doctors who participated in the vaccination scheme were 'required to display their fee schedules for flu vaccination clearly in the clinic'.

'The Centre for Health Protection will upload enrolled doctors' fees for flu vaccination at its website,' the department said. 'This will give parents ample information to choose which doctor.'

Medical Association president Tse Hung-hing said doctors could charge additional fees on top of the HK$80. The association had suggested a HK$100 subsidy.

'It may be reasonable for some doctors, it may not be reasonable to the others,' he said. 'It is up to the doctors to set a charge. It is their choice. We support a free market choice ... We do not want to manipulate the market.'

But Dr Tse said he would encourage parents to have their children vaccinated against flu 'to prevent an illness which can have serious complications'.

Medical Association immediate past president Choi Kin said most family doctors usually charged HK$150 to HK$200 for a flu shot.

'The amount the doctor will charge will be uploaded to the CHP website and the parents can make an informed choice,' he said.

Some 'good Samaritan groups' would be charging at most a HK$20 co-payment. A very minimal fee could also be charged by kindergartens run by doctors' wives, he said.