Lunar New Year holiday may start early for schools as Hong Kong’s leader meets experts to discuss fighting flu surge
More supplies of vaccines expected in coming weeks amid citywide shortage
The Lunar New Year holiday could start early for schoolchildren in Hong Kong as the city’s leader held urgent talks with experts to consider keeping pupils home to stem the surge of flu cases amid a shortage of vaccines.
The Centre for Health Protection is expected to announce flu control and prevention measures on Wednesday, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met the city’s flu experts, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Chinese University professor of respiratory medicine Dr David Hui Shu-cheong, on Tuesday.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee also attended the meeting.
Since the start of the flu season on January 7, there have been 369 institutional cases of flu, with most reports coming from kindergartens and primary schools. Eleven children suffered from severe forms of flu. Among them, a three-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy have died.
A total of 194 adults also developed severe flu complications. Of those, 111 died, with 92 of them aged 65 or older.
Before attending her weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Lam said she wanted to know experts’ views on vaccines and the pathology of the virus.
“On the issue of whether kindergartens should start their Lunar New Year holiday sooner to reduce infections in kindergartens, I also need to have a scientific basis and listen to experts’ opinion to make a decision,” Lam said.
The official holiday is from February 16 to February 19.
But Hong Kong medics and hospitals are grappling with a shortage of flu vaccines.
Hong Kong Doctors Union president Dr Henry Yeung Chiu-fat said it was hard to procure stocks of flu vaccines in the private market as most were being diverted to public clinics.
“We’ve already been facing such a problem since mid-January and it’s serious,” Yeung said on a radio programme on Tuesday.
“We’ve heard that the government has taken many of the vaccines. I hope the government will have a rethink and release more vaccines into the private market,” Yeung said.
He also told the Post that the number of people on a waiting list for flu vaccines at his Tsing Yi clinic had already exceeded 200, most of them children aged between six months and three years old.
Private medical group Quality Healthcare said its clinics were also short of flu vaccines owing to a spike in demand in the past few weeks.
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The Post called five clinics, located in Fanling, Sheung Shui, Yuen Long, Hung Hom and Kwun Tong to inquire about the availability of flu vaccines. All of them said they were out of stock.
The Hospital Authority said Tuesday it still had around 20,000 doses of flu vaccines remaining, but “the stockpile may be depleted in the coming two to three weeks”. Of the 12 private hospitals, only one had stock, according to media reports on the same day.
The Department of Health said it bought an additional 10,000 doses of flu vaccines, expected to be available to institutions under the government vaccination scheme after the Lunar New Year.
A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur, one of the major suppliers of flu vaccines, said the extra stocks provided to public and private sectors were similar in number. The delivery of the first batch of vaccines – which arrived in Hong Kong last Friday – to doctors was expected to be completed on Tuesday. The second batch of vaccines, which arrived on Tuesday, would be distributed to doctors within this week.
GlaxoSmithKline, another manufacturer of flu vaccines, said it had secured a German-made batch, which would be delivered to the city around the Lunar New Year.