How Hong Kong can better protect children from the flu
Due to the severe influenza outbreak in January, local kindergartens and primary schools had to close early for Lunar New Year, while the hospitals struggled to take care of flu patients.
Considering the relatively low vaccination rates among children, the Department of Health has planned to inoculate more schoolchildren on campus through an outreach programme in the 2018-19 flu season. A similar outreach programme was launched in 2017-18, but only about 24,000 children from 54 primary schools and 7,800 children from 60 kindergartens received vaccinations.
To better protect children, the government should introduce a comprehensive monitoring system for influenza activity among them and target the more vulnerable groups of children to promote flu shots.
Since some parents are sceptical about the effectiveness of flu vaccination, stronger evidence is needed about how well flu shots can protect children.
According to a recent study led by the University of Hong Kong, influenza vaccination could reduce infection rates by 65 per cent for children aged six months to 17 years. However, the study was based on data collected from 1,078 children admitted to two hospitals between December 4, 2017 and January 31, 2018. Without more comprehensive data on infected children, it is not possible to more precisely assess vaccination effectiveness among different age groups. The researchers were also unable to study the vaccination efficacy among outpatients.
To more accurately assess vaccination effectiveness, the Department of Health should create an influenza record file for every child in the city. In addition to data from government vaccination programmes, flu shot records of children should also be collected from private clinics and private hospitals.
Influenza activity among children should be monitored more precisely in both public and private hospitals, and through kindergartens and schools, which may be asked by the Education Bureau to report the days of absenteeism due to influenza.
Such a monitoring system may provide more information for the government to decide which groups of children need the flu vaccination more urgently and allocate resources accordingly. Parents and school principals can also make more informed decisions on whether to join the outreach programme for flu vaccination.
Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong