Hong Kong schools could do more to promote flu shots

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 9:59pm

During the Christmas holidays, public hospitals were again overwhelmed by patients infected with seasonal influenza.

While recruiting private doctors and leasing beds from private hospitals could alleviate the shortage of health services in public hospitals, the government should also make more concerted efforts to promote influenza vaccination among the vulnerable groups in the city, especially schoolchildren.

According to Department of Health data, about 65,000 primary schoolchildren received flu shots in the 2016-17 flu season, so only 18.7 per cent of the 349,008 primary schoolchildren were protected through the subsidy vaccination programmes. Given the relatively low participation rate in these programmes by schoolchildren, the Education Bureau must offer more incentives for school principals to educate parents and schoolchildren about the benefits of taking flu shots.

In this flu season, the bureau has distributed the Centre for Health Protection letter “2017/18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Arrangement for Children” to primary schools, kindergartens and child care centres. But, the bureau does not collect data from schools about how many schoolchildren have had flu shots. Schools are not required to inform the bureau whether they have arranged vaccination activity on campus for students following the Department of Health recommendation.

To hold school principals accountable for promoting flu vaccinations, the bureau should collect data about vaccination administration for schoolchildren from individual schools and develop an incentive scheme to reward schools where the children are more active in taking flu shots. More resources should also be provided to schools so children can be inoculated more conveniently on campus.

To better inform public health policymaking, a more comprehensive health record system is needed to monitor flu infection cases among schoolchildren. The Centre for Health Protection monitors the activity of seasonal influenza in the community through tracking the influenza-like illness consultation rates at 64 general outpatient clinics under the Hospital Authority and around 50 private general practitioners. Yet, the data has no breakdown into age groups. Nor are the vaccination records of the individual patients collected by the system.

The Department of Health should collaborate with the Education Bureau to collect more data about influenza and vaccination activity in order to assess the overall effectiveness of influenza vaccination and target flu shot promotion to schoolchildren with a higher risk of flu infection.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong