2 million would get free flu jabs under inoculation plan
Ella Lee and Martin Wong
About 2 million people considered to be 'high risk' would be vaccinated against swine flu for free under Hong Kong's biggest influenza inoculation programme, according to sources.
Hong Kong reported a record five imported swine flu cases yesterday. All were young people returning from the United States. The city has seen a doubling of cases - from 10 to 20 - in the past four days.
A scientific committee under the Centre for Health Protection yesterday supported the government's proposed programme to inoculate all elderly people, young children, the chronically ill and health care workers against the swine flu virus when a vaccine becomes available.
The government is working out the total cost and details of the programme, which would also include seasonal flu vaccines and pneumonoccal vaccines for some of the groups. A new vaccine for the flu is expected to cost between HK$100 to HK$200 a shot. The vaccination programme will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Some committee members yesterday expressed concern about the safety of new vaccines and suggested that some local tests be conducted.
Undersecretary for Food and Health Gabriel Leung said yesterday that Hong Kong was getting 'very near' to the time when it would register its first local case of infection from an unknown source.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen chaired a steering committee yesterday and reaffirmed the mitigation measures that the government would activate once a local case was confirmed. They include suspending classes at all kindergarten and primary schools for 14 days and reserving Tamiflu for patients only.
Deputy secretary for education Betty Ip Tsang Chui-hing said school examinations were likely to be cancelled if they fell within the suspension period.
Primary Five students, whose examination results would be used for the assessment of their secondary schools places, would be required to sit exams.
'Special arrangements will be made according to health advice,' Mrs Ip said. 'Students will need to have temperature checks before entering a school campus. They will also be scattered in various classrooms and told to come to and leave schools in different time slots.'
On Thursday, the government ordered the United Christian College (Kowloon East) closed for two weeks after a Form Five student who had returned from Canada was found to be infected. The girl attended school on Wednesday.
Controller of the Centre for Health Protection Thomas Tsang Hoi-fai said 10 students who had close contact with the girl were under compulsory Tamiflu therapy.
Those who did not agree to take the medication would be quarantined, he said.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said he believed that local cases already existed but had not been spotted.