Hong Kong needs to improve the administration of its vaccines
- The latest flu jab incident has further raised public concerns and underlines why measures must be taken to ensure faith is not lost in a system aimed at preventing mass outbreaks
Vaccination remains a reliable defence against influenza, except when the quality of the vaccine is in doubt. So far there is no evidence to prove that the flu vaccine procured by Hong Kong authorities is also tainted with impurities found in Taiwan. But, with as many as 75,000 doses of the same batch from the French supplier already made available in the city, the public is justifiably concerned, not only about the potential health implications, but also the government’s contingency plan as winter arrives.
The suspension of flu vaccinations at hospitals and outpatient clinics is sensible, as is the replacement of vaccine being arranged by health officials. The former is a necessary precautionary step while the latter prevents a repeat of the crisis caused by a supply shortage. The government, after all, has learned many lessons in dealing with medical incidents of such nature, the latest being only in February.
The best way to dispel fears is to relay reliable information to the community. According to health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, there is no evidence to suggest the batch in question posed a threat, nor have there been reports of any adverse effects here. While there is no reason to panic at this stage, the authorities should trace vaccine that has been distributed and step up efforts to address any concerns that may arise.
The white particles in flu jabs were found during routine inspections by the Taiwan drug authorities, but the Department of Health in Hong Kong apparently just relies on the good practice of drug manufacturers and does not do its own tests. Previously, officials also came under fire for stockpiling the wrong type of flu vaccine. Balancing demand and supply becomes even more challenging when taking into account the possibility of mainland visitors arriving here for inoculations. The administration of vaccine still has much room for improvement.
Even if a flu vaccine does not necessarily offer full protection to an individual, it pays to get as many people vaccinated as possible as a way to safeguard the population against the adverse consequences of a mass outbreak. The last thing the government wants is people to stay away from vaccinations out offear of their quality.