Vaccine plan needs 'professionalism'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am

With a swine flu vaccination programme aimed at inoculating two million people from 'high-risk' groups due to start next month, potential for abuse of the system and loopholes in the verification process have become apparent.

The Centre for Health Protection said it would rely mainly on doctors' professionalism to safeguard against problems.

Two million people from five high-risk groups, including the elderly, young children and medical workers, will be vaccinated under a government-funded scheme. Eligible people can either get inoculated in public clinics for free or go to private clinics, where doctors' charges might vary.

A bottle of vaccine costs HK$790. Other than the cost, the government will also reimburse private doctors an administrative fee of HK$50 per shot when they vaccinate people from high-risk groups.

A bottle of vaccine, which contains 10 doses, must be used within seven days once opened.

People who are not considered at high risk can also be inoculated, at their own expense.

But the identities of people from some high-risk groups, such as pig farm workers and the chronically ill, will be harder to verify than groups such as children, the elderly and medical workers.

After meeting with private doctors' representatives yesterday about the inoculation plan, centre controller Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said the government must rely on private doctors' professionalism to determine whether patients really belonged to high-risk groups.

'Doctors are professional,' Tsang said. 'I believe they will make the best decisions for public health.' He said the government would seek legal opinion if any cases of abuse arose.

Tsang said there was no cap on how much private doctors could charge patients, but all prices would be available on the internet for the public, so people could make their own choice.

Hong Kong Doctors Union president Dr Henry Yeung Chiu-fat said he expected that about 600 doctors would vaccinate patients without charging extra.