Free flu jabs at primary schools planned as Hong Kong bids to tackle winter outbreaks
Pilot programme will start in the next academic year with up to 200 schools likely to take part
Medical teams will visit Hong Kong primary schools to give pupils free flu jabs under a pilot scheme set to start in the next academic year as the city tries to prevent a repeat of winter outbreaks of the virus, health authorities said.
The aim is to vaccinate as many children as possible to provide the herd immunity needed to prevent influenza outbreaks seen in such problematic levels this year that ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday the authorities shut all kindergartens, primary schools and special needs schools early.
Health authorities have also been criticised for a shortage of flu vaccines. Hong Kong took the rare step of using the southern hemisphere flu vaccine along with the usual northern hemisphere version to meet the demand for jabs from worried parents.
Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Wong Ka-hing announced the arrangements after its vaccination committee met on Wednesday afternoon to review the flu situation.
The centre, which is under the Department of Health, briefed primary school supervisors and principals on Monday about the School Outreach Vaccination Pilot Programme to encourage them to sign up.
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Dr Chow Chun-bong, chairman of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, said there was room to improve the flu vaccination rate among schoolchildren.
The number of flu outbreak cases in schools rose by around 50 per cent this year, Chow said. “The proportion of schoolchildren receiving the vaccination was around 20 per cent. We think there is room to increase it a bit more,” he said.
“We discussed whether there should be a special scheme to encourage vaccination at schools after the summer holiday and before the flu season. We would need to discuss [a more detailed plan] with schools, the Education Bureau and private doctors.”
Under the pilot scheme, the government would arrange visits, either from the government outreach team or public-private partnerships, to provide the service at participating schools.
Special primary schools are excluded from the programme.
Schools have been given until March 29 to say whether they want to join and will be given details in May, according to a letter from Wong. The programme could be conducted from November to December.
Schools that did not join the scheme could instead invite private doctors under the existing vaccination subsidy scheme to give the jabs at no extra cost to parents.
Wong said the department would provide assistance to doctors participating in the pilot scheme.
“Private doctors do not have to arrange vaccine procurement, or [handling of] medical waste. We would help collect [the waste] after vaccinations,” Wong said.
The department expects no more than 200 primary schools out of some 500 institutions to take part in the pilot scheme, and around 40 to 50 per cent of pupils in participating schools to receive jabs. About 100,000 doses of vaccines would be needed.
Wong said the winter flu peak could be over by the end of next week or in early April.