Steps taken against drug errors in child vaccination drive

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 2009, 12:00am

New measures were being implemented to reduce the chance of further mistakes in a vaccination programme, Health Director Dr Lam Ping-yan said yesterday.

In a blunder last Sunday, some children who had vaccinations against pneumococcus - a bacterium that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections - were given the wrong dose of paracetamol. Paracetamol is usually given if a child develops a fever after the jab.

Some babies under a year old were given the drug in syrup form marked as a dose for older children, and older ones received doses from bottles marked for younger ones.

Lam said that from tomorrow, two counters would be set up in clinics with more than five vaccination booths to distribute the syrup. The two Auxiliary Medical Service staff on each counter would be responsible for ensuring the right dose was given.

The syrup will be contained in different-sized bottles to minimise the chances of a further mix-up.

'For children above the age of one year, the label prescribes one teaspoonful up to four times a day. For children aged under one year, the label prescribes half a teaspoonful up to four times a day,' he said.

The vaccination programme is provided at the Department of Health's 29 maternal and child health centres only on Sundays.

The department contacted more than 3,000 parents and 112 children were found to have been given the syrup paracetamol with the wrong dosage label. Among them, 81 were more than one year old.

While 27 had taken the syrup, the department had received no reports of side effects, the director said.

Lam apologised to all the children and parents affected, but he appealed to parents to continue to bring their children for inoculation, as the vaccination programme must have a high coverage rate to be effective.

The department aims to vaccinate 128,000 children within six months. About 200,000 shots are required because some children need more than one shot.

Lam said a heavy workload was a main cause of the mix-up.

'It might be too stressful for a staff member to perform inoculations and also dispense medicine,' he said.

But he said all dispensing staff were competent in their duties.

More than 2,000 Auxiliary Medical Service volunteers were trained to inoculate and the best 807 people were selected for the programme, a department spokeswoman said.

Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said 4,525 vaccine shots were given, of which 4,518 were successful.

He said that with this success rate, the public could be confident that the auxiliary medical volunteers were competent.