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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hongkongers desperate for flu vaccine turn to Macau for help

Citywide shortage in private sector forces residents to go searching across the border, but Macau is also facing dire shortfall

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 11:30pm

A citywide flu vaccine shortage has prompted Hongkongers to seek the jab in Macau as health officials warn of a possible surge in outbreaks next week as children return to school, the Post has learned.

At least two private clinics in the neighbouring gambling hub said they had received inquiries from Hongkongers over the Lunar New Year period. The clinics were also not able to offer the vaccine due to a similar shortage in Macau.

A Macau lawmaker said a Hong Kong relative of his had been looking for two or three doses in the former Portuguese enclave, but had left disappointed.

The examples highlight an acute shortage of flu vaccines in the region. Private doctors in Hong Kong have complained of being out of stock for as long as two months. It comes despite the government urging residents to get vaccinated as a precaution as flu rages through the city.

Pupils across Hong Kong will return to school after the Lunar New Year holiday ends next week. All kindergartens, primary and special needs schools were closed early before the festive break to prevent further transmission of the virus.

Extra batches of foreign-made vaccines are due for delivery to Hong Kong but will not arrive in time to protect students against the dominant strain of the virus, influenza B, before school begins. The B strain is one which fewer people have built up immunity to, doctors said.

Early school break pays off as flu outbreaks drop at Hong Kong institutions

“The government has not amid this flu surge showed adequate alertness or efficacy in prospective planning, leading to what we all see as a gross underestimation of the need for flu vaccines,” the Medical Association, Hong Kong’s largest doctors’ group, said.

It added that there were people waiting in vain at private clinics despite having pre-ordered vaccines.

Doctors have urged public hospitals to release to the private market unused vaccines reserved for high-risk patients.

In Macau the shortage has been equally acute, with nine clinics the Post spoke to saying they did not have stock. A legislator said the government had bought most of the available stock, leaving the private market largely empty. One clinic said it had been out of stock since late January.

The casino hub offers free flu vaccinations for children at all primary schools and kindergartens. In Hong Kong children have to travel to private clinics to receive a subsidised or free jab.

Hospitals see rush of patients amid flu surge and end of Lunar New Year break, resulting in waits of over eight hours

“My cousin from Hong Kong sought help from me because of a flu vaccine shortage in Hong Kong this year. But she could not get any vaccine in the end as private clinics cannot order extra,” said Dr Chan Iek-lap, a Macau legislator and medic.

One Hong Kong woman, Shirley Chan, 62, said she had successfully secured a flu jab by travelling to Macau. It cost her a few hundred dollars at a private clinic.

“I was worried that I would have complications if infected with the flu virus. I had no choice but to make an appointment at a clinic in Macau,” she said.

The diabetes patient last month had a request for a flu vaccine rejected by a Hong Kong public hospital.

“I’m very disappointed with the Hong Kong government,” Chan said. “I was told their existing policy on the vaccine does not cover patients with chronic diseases.”

As of 11am on Thursday, 15 Hong Kong children had been recorded as suffering from severe flu since the start of the year. Two of those died. Between the official start of the flu season on January 7 and Thursday this week, a total of 380 adults have come down with severe flu in the city. Of those, 234 died, most of them elderly.

Public hospitals continue to be overloaded with patients. On Thursday the occupancy rate for public medical wards was 111 per cent, meaning temporary beds had to be laid out along corridors.

Hong Kong’s ‘war on flu’ rages on as hospitals brace for surge in patients after Lunar New Year break

Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing, deputising director in cluster services at the Hospital Authority, said the authority still had more than 14,000 doses of flu vaccines as of Thursday. Ko said there would be around 9,000 extra doses allocated to the authority by the Department of Health in the coming weeks.

Both Sanofi Pasteur and GSK, two major pharmaceutical firms, said they had supplied flu vaccines to Macau but did not reveal how many vaccines had been provided.

GSK said distribution of an extra batch of vaccines began in Hong Kong on Friday.