Government urged to subsidise immunisation programme The government should issue health-care vouchers for child vaccines and educate parents about their effectiveness, the Medical Association said. 'Instead of providing free vaccines at public clinics, the government can subsidise parents to have the services done in the private sector,' said Alvin Chan Yee-shing, an association council member. Association president Choi Kin said his group would soon launch a series of programmes to educate parents on child immunisation, including vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae and chickenpox. Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacterium that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections, and is common among children under five. Dr Chan said Hong Kong lagged behind other places not only in its immunisation programme but also in public vaccination education. The Department of Health now offers the so-called four-in-one vaccines for free to all newborns against diphtheria,tetanus, pertussis and polio. Its immunisation programme also provides BCG vaccine against tuberculosis, MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, and vaccines against hepatitis B. But Dr Chan, a private paediatrician, said Hong Kong children should also get vaccinated against streptococcus pneumoniae, chickenpox and Hib (haemophilus influenzae type B), a bacterium that infects the lining of the brain and causes meningitis. The three vaccines are included in national vaccination programmes in many developed countries. The pneumococcal vaccine, for example, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2000 and has since become part of the national immunisation programme in a dozen countries, including the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Belgium. The World Health Organisation also recommends it. The pharmaceutical industry said about 60 per cent of Hong Kong newborns get 'five-in-one' vaccines, which also cover Hib, at private clinics. Each 'five-in-one' vaccine costs about HK$500, and each child needs three shots. Some parents also pay for the pneumococcal and chickenpox vaccines. Chinese University published a study in August and confirmed that the pneumococcal vaccines were cost-effective in preventing children's diseases. Dr Chan said nurses at the Department of Health's maternal and child health clinics usually do not promote the vaccines not provided by the government. 'Before the government can make up its mind whether to include these vaccines in its immunisation programme, it should tell the public about their effectiveness,' he said. 'Some parents still do not know much about them, and their children are not protected. 'Parents get the impression that these vaccines are not effective because the government does not provide them for free. It is the right of the Hong Kong public to know more about these vaccines to protect their children.'