PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 January, 2009, 12:00am

Doubts over efficacy of flu vaccine

The Centre for Health Protection in Hong Kong is appealing to parents to give their children, from the age of six months upwards, the influenza jabs.

A quick internet search, however, reveals many doubts as to its efficacy and more importantly the safety of these procedures.

Notably, I refer to 'The Cochrane Library - evidence of health-care decision-making', which published a professional report assessing the research to date on the efficacy and safety of flu vaccinations.

To summarise, it said that:

In respect of efficacy, with children aged from two, nasal spray vaccines made from weakened influenza viruses were better at preventing illness caused by the specific influenza virus than injected vaccines made from the killed virus;

Neither type was particularly good at preventing 'flu-like illness' caused by other types of viruses;

In children under the age of two the efficacy of inactivated vaccine was similar to placebo; and

Very little information was found on the safety of inactivated vaccines, the most commonly used vaccine in young children.

So it seems that efficacy is limited only to the predicted virus, the spray type is much better than 'jabs', both are useless for children under two and there is no proof that they are safe and will not cause other sicknesses.

What is the research that supports the often-quoted 'one in a million' ill-effects?

Furthermore, our Centre for Health Protection has said that the decision would be made to extend the vaccination programme if it proved effective in reducing severe hospital admissions from seasonal flu.

This is hardly good science as, besides there being no viable control group, it appears to exclude likely sickness or, perhaps severe hospital admissions caused by ill-effects that most doctors would not necessarily recognise as resulting from the vaccination.

This is all rather worrying.

S. P. Li, Lantau

Teach children 'real' English

I refer to Alex Yeung's letter ('Syllabus is far too narrow', January 15) in which he accurately described how Hong Kong students learn English.

Compared with students in Korea and Japan, Hong Kong students do have a higher exposure to English.

However, many people have argued that despite this, the standard of Hong Kong pupils' English is deteriorating. They are probably right.

Although many young people are capable of writing formal and precise English, many of them cannot cope with the spoken English people use on a daily basis.

For example, many pupils would have difficulty telling a joke in English.

The root cause of this is the way in which the language is taught in Hong Kong, which is aimed at training pupils for the workplace. Hong Kong students are given language projects to improve their proficiency and they have to make presentations in English at school. However, this does not mean they would feel comfortable chatting to a foreigner.

I am aware of these problems, because of my own experiences. I have joined a volunteer scheme at Hong Kong airport.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to strike up a casual conversation with foreign tourists.

The phases and words that I used were very straightforward but formal and did not sound natural.

I think this is a common problem with Hong Kong youths.

If young people in the SAR want to feel more comfortable with less formal English then they must try harder at speaking in this way.

There has to be a change of mindset in the way in which young people use English.

Isa Shek, Kwun Tong

Xi should meet poor families

I feel bitterly disappointed by Vice-President Xi Jinping's recent visits to Macau and Hong Kong.

On his official visits he met ordinary citizens and I appreciated the concern he showed for people's lives, but he could have done more.

For example, he only met middle class families. These people have not suffered the worst from the economic downturn. I would have preferred to see Mr Xi visiting families living in poverty. I am sure he would learn a lot from such people and would have had a better understanding of the real problems faced by our society.

The Hong Kong and Macau governments must let these voices be heard and take action to help the disadvantaged in society.

Stephen Leung Ho-keung, Kwai Chung

India's terror is home-bred

I refer to the article by Deep Datta-Ray ('Writing is on the wall for globalised India', January 13). It would be a tragic mistake to lay the blame for Mumbai's 26/11 terror attacks on India's rich-poor divide just because the targets were upmarket hotels in the city's classiest district.

The cheek-by-jowl lives of India's rich and poor existed long before there was a globalised or even independent India. India's social-cultural system created it and feudal India perpetuated it.

It was the responsibility of democratic India to eradicate it, but more than 60 years later this divide persists.

It has generated Maoist and Naxalite insurgencies, but definitely not terrorism of the kind that India first witnessed in March 1993 after Mumbai's communal riots and then regularly since 2003, after Gujarat's communal riots.

While Mr Datta-Ray has been perceptive in admitting that the Mumbai attacks could not have been a solely Pakistani operation as 'only locals with detailed knowledge of buildings, traffic and police deployment could have provided the high quality intelligence that the terrorists obviously enjoyed', he ignores the history of India's terrorism.

He [fails to describe] how it began, with virulent nationalism validating divisive politicians and political parties, police colluding in crimes (targeting civilians and businesses) and the absence of justice. Mumbai's 26/11 could be just one more cry for revenge from the victims of communal strife who have never got justice.

It does seem that India's civilian elite find it easier to blame Pakistan and even the rich-poor divide in India rather than demand that India's institutions of law and order and justice be revamped and politicians be made accountable for the safety and security of citizens.

Raynah Sivaraman, Mid-Levels

Give us more say in MPF

Being the holder of a Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) account, I of course believe that we should have more control over the management of our funds.

After all, it is my hard-earned money. I think the most pressing change that is needed is to allow individuals to be free to choose their own MPF trustees.

Only employees themselves have a thorough knowledge of their own needs, so they are best equipped to select the most suitable service provider.

Once these service providers have to compete for customers, I think they will definitely lower charges and hopefully there will be an improvement in the quality of the service.

Giving people the freedom to choose may increase administrative costs for employers, however, company bosses have a responsibility to protect the welfare of employees.

Wong Pui-lam, Kwun Tong