Hong Kong health department orders checks on private clinics after some vaccines found to be stored in domestic freezers
Using domestic refrigerators is not a direct violation but is against city guidelines
Private clinics will face random inspections after some were reported to be using household refrigerators instead of medical-grade freezers to store vaccines, Hong Kong’s health director said on Monday.
The announcement came as the number of people getting flu jabs rose. That was despite fears the shot was ineffective because it was different from the one recommended by the World Health Organisation.
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Using domestic refrigerators is not a direct violation but is against city guidelines, which urge the storage of vaccines in specific coolers, Director of Health Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee said.
“The relevant guidelines recommended it is best to use a medical-grade refrigerator, but some countries use domestic freezers for storage,” Chan said.
Officials from the Centre for Health Protection will do the checks.
Chan dismissed suggestions that medical-grade refrigerators should be part of the centre’s regulations, citing rules from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that state the household storage units could be used for vaccines, provided the temperature is checked twice a day.
“The storage of vaccines is the responsibility of medical professionals, and their standards are supervised,” she said.
This month, about 50,000 people received the flu vaccine, nearly 8,000 more than the same month last year, Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the secretary for food and health, said.
The rise came despite the vaccine being designed to protect against a different flu strain than the one expected to be most prominent in the northern hemisphere, according to the WHO.
But local health officials stressed that most of the city’s flu vaccinations would probably still be effective, and there was no evidence that the global health watchdog’s proposed alternative would offer better protection.
“Flu virus activity remains rather low at the moment, but we expect Hong Kong will enter a winter peak for seasonal influenza early next year. The best way to prevent an infection is to get a jab against the flu virus,” Sophia Chan said.
Last month, the WHO changed its recommended vaccine type. The so-called Singapore strain of the vaccine was said to be “slightly better” than the 460,000 doses of vaccine already bought by Hong Kong.
Officials said the local shots would still offer some level of protection.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a top microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong, agreed that vaccines would be useful for vulnerable groups despite “uncertain” protection against the H3N2 virus.
The Medical Association, the largest doctors’ group, believed the vaccine could offer around 70 to 90 per cent protection against the flu virus, and a community outbreak could be prevented if 30 per cent of the population are vaccinated.
The group urged the government to offer subsidised vaccines to high-risk patients, including those with chronic diseases and pregnant women.