Children aged under five can within the new few weeks receive a vaccine against a bug that claimed two young lives almost two weeks ago, the health minister has said in an attempt to calm anxious parents. Those with low immunity because of chronic illnesses - exposing them to higher infection risk - might get the subsidised jab within the next few days, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said. "Children who are chronically ill, such as those suffering from asthma, will be in great danger if they get infected," Ko said on radio yesterday. "We will therefore quickly give them priority to receive the vaccination." The strain of bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype 3, was detected by the Centre for Health Protection in a three-year-old boy who died on November 17 and a five-year-old girl who died a day later. Pfizer is the sole manufacturer of the latest pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar 13 (PCV13), which targets the infection. The company's corporate affairs director, Jeraldine Ip Pui-see, said the city had "some tens of thousands" of doses of the vaccine, and that supplies were sufficient to meet demand. "We will work with the government to see how many [vaccines] they will need in the near future," she said. The centre announced vaccination subsidies on Monday despite advice from a government panel of experts that not all children aged under five needed the injection, which gives only 10 months' protection from the bug. Ko said the subsidy scheme sought to strike a balance between the views of some experts that the vaccine was not essential, and an opportunity for parents to give their children extra protection for 10 months. The panel, which comprised government officials and medical experts, is believed to have run into internal disagreement during its five-hour meeting on Monday. One area discussed was the cost and effectiveness of PCV13, considering the vaccine would draw on public resources, a source said. Meanwhile, parents rushed to private clinics for the vaccine, which now appears to be in short supply. Medical Association president and paediatrician Tse Hung-hing said his clinics had been receiving 40 requests a day for the vaccine, but they were running out of supplies until they could refill stock next month. Ko said the government might consider buying a batch of PCV13 vaccines at below cost and selling them to private clinics. "There is a lot of work to do, which is estimated to take a few weeks," he said. Pneumococcal serotype 3 is one of 93 serotypes of pneumococci. Since 2011, the government vaccination programme has offered protection against the strain through PCV13. Children vaccinated before 2011 received another vaccine, PCV7 or PCV10, neither of which protects against serotype 3. Serotype 3 was not uncommon, and pneumococcal bacteria were usually harmless, the centre said, but it could become pathogenic and lead to infections. The bug is typically found in the nose and throat of healthy people, particularly children. It is spread by coughing, sneezing and close contact - so personal and hand hygiene is important for prevention.