Most parents unaware of free vaccine plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 May, 2009, 12:00am

Two-thirds of parents have no idea free vaccines will be available for their children against a bacterium that causes pneumonia, a study finds.

The Hong Kong Child Vaccination Concern Group interviewed 637 parents whose children are covered by the plan - those born between September 2007 and June this year - and 66 per cent said they knew nothing about the free jab.

Starting in September, children under two years old will be able to receive free vaccinations against the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium, which causes pneumonia, meningitis, bacteraemia and ear infections. But the group's convenor, Bill Lay Yan-piau, said it was dangerous for parents to wait that long because swine flu increased the risks.

'We are worried that parents will become too dependent on the government's help. Under the threat of the A(H1N1) virus, it would be dangerous for children if they develop complications after catching the flu.'

Precautions should be taken against secondary bacterial infections during the flu outbreak, he said. 'Swine flu cannot be prevented but a vaccination for Streptococcus pneumoniae is readily available.'

Henry Hui, a doctor who specialises in paediatrics, said secondary bacterial infections accounted for 30 per cent of deaths in a large-scale outbreak. The bacteria were fatal and had a high level of drug resistance, he said. Meningitis - one illness triggered by the bacteria - caused irreversible damage, he said.

Mr Lay said a vaccination against the bacteria cost HK$500 to HK$800 each time if parents went to a private doctor. For babies less than one year old, four rounds of vaccination are needed - one every two months.

He recommended that parents pay for their children under five to have one round of vaccination, and then take advantage of the government's free offer to complete the course. He called for more publicity, especially at clinics and border points.