Safeguard HPV jabs for Hong Kong women
Disruption to supplies of a drug that guards against cervical cancer has also hit those from the mainland, and steps must be taken over exploitation of patients
The Consumer Council receives hundreds of complaints each year involving a life-saving vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer.
Disruption of supplies of Gardasil 9 has exposed the exploitation of mainland women, who pay Hong Kong clinics up to five times more than locals for a three-injection, year-long course.
Thousands of women, including mainlanders, have either not received all their jabs or are not assured of receiving them because clinics have continued to take bookings without sufficient stocks of the vaccine.
The issue smacks of the baby milk formula scandal a few years ago, when the government introduced a limit on the amount that could be taken back over the border by mainlanders to protect supplies for Hong Kong mothers.
Complaints to the consumer watchdog about vaccination services have tripled since last year to more than 1,600, largely due to delays for HPV jabs.
The inability of local clinics to meet the demand for all three injections highlights the activities of a mainland agent who markets high-priced vaccination packages in private clinics at between
HK$8,000 to HK$15,000.
American pharmaceutical company Merck, known as MSD outside the United States, says it told clinics eight months ago that a cyberattack had disrupted production, and recently warned supply remained affected.
Hundreds of mainlanders were referred to a medical group that has been accused of failing to provide the whole treatment to existing customers while taking orders from new ones.
A spokeswoman for MSD says that instead of stockpiling the drug, some clinics have been taking on extra patients and giving women just one or two jabs.
The vaccine has been available in Hong Kong since 2016, but was only approved by mainland regulators in April. Given that without vaccination cervical cancer poses a potentially lethal threat, this is a serious health issue for Hong Kong. But the number of doses administered monthly has dropped to 30,000 from 66,000 last year.
The health authorities and the manufacturer should at least act to safeguard local women and girls from the diversion of supplies for profit and a less than optimum course of treatment.