Most HK children weren't given flu jab linked to sleep disorder

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am

Children who were vaccinated against swine flu in 2009 were more likely to suffer from a sleep disorder, the World Health Organisation warned. But pharmacists said Hongkongers need not be unduly worried as the majority of the city's children were given vaccine produced by a different company.

Children aged four to 19 were more prone to developing narcolepsy, a condition in which people fall asleep uncontrollably and unexpectedly, if they had received the swine flu vaccination in 2009, according to a Finnish study published on February 1.

Since August last year, 12 countries, including Finland, Sweden and Iceland, have reported suspected cases of narcolepsy linked to swine flu jabs. A WHO committee reviewed the data on February 4 and decided further investigation was needed.

The Finnish study pointed out that genetics could also be a cause for narcolepsy in the children.

The only vaccine used in Finland against the pandemic in 2009 was GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Pandemrix. In Hong Kong, the government bought vaccines only from Sanofi Aventis, and a Department of Health spokesman said Pandemrix was not registered and never sold in Hong Kong.

'Hong Kong people do not need to worry unduly. So far, there has not been any reports of narcolepsy [linked to the vaccine],' William Chui Chung-ming, vice-president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, said.

The content of flu vaccines changes every year according to the dominant flu strain at that time. When swine flu first emerged in 2009, a vaccine was specially produced to tackle it. But this year, protection against swine flu was included in the seasonal flu vaccine, according to a WHO recommendation.

The vaccine investigated by the Finnish study was only used in 2009 and is different from those available to Hong Kong people this year, Chui said.

'The vaccine that is in use this year does not yield many reports of side effects. At most it is just minor fever, which is perfectly normal,' he said.

Secretary for Food and Health York Dr Chow Yat-ngok urged all medical workers to get flu jabs. The Hospital Authority says only 11,000 of its 58,000 staff had received their shots. Chow said the number was 'not satisfactory'.

The chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, Joseph Lee Kok-long, said most nurses felt they were not at risk, as they protect themselves at work. It was inconvenient for nurses - even if they wanted to - to get vaccinated. 'We have to go to the staff clinic at specific times. Not many want to go there just for that.'

He said the authority should go back to the old policy in which vaccinations were available at individual hospitals. 'So we can just sign up with our supervisor, the shots are delivered and we can administer them in the wards.'