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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Health care booking agents cash in on China’s vaccine scandal amid rush to secure jabs at Hong Kong clinics

Inquiries by the Post to firms specialising in obtaining appointments for health care services in the city show demand surge from parents across the border

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2018, 5:05pm

Health care booking agents are cashing in on China’s vaccine scandal by promising pricey appointments to mainland parents seeking jabs for their children in Hong Kong, with at least one company doubling its fees.

Some private clinics in the city claimed to be fully booked for vaccinations for the next two months.

Checks by the Post found companies specialising in reservations for Hong Kong health care services were in big demand, with many saying on social media they could readily secure vaccinations.

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At least one agent doubled its fee between Wednesday and Friday, to HK$300 per booking, and another said it had received more than 30,000 inquiries from parents.

Hong Kong’s vaccine stocks are from foreign brands and so are unaffected by the crisis on the mainland, which has seen a loss of confidence in all vaccine types – not only those involved in the scandal.

China has been gripped by the health scare since two major drug makers were found to have supplied substandard vaccines for babies. Manufacturers Changsheng Bio-Technology and Wuhan Institute of Biological Products were discovered to have sold ineffective DPT vaccines to children under government health programmes in several provinces.

The vaccines in question were meant to prevent diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.

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In Hong Kong’s public health centres, similar vaccines available are four-in-one jabs, with an added protection against poliomyelitis. Private clinics also offer five-in-one or six-in-one packages.

Posing as a customer on messaging app WeChat, the Post approached Shenzhen-based company Shenwaiyi, which helps mainlanders book medical services in Hong Kong. A staff member said it had received many more requests for vaccination services in the city.

“Many customers make their bookings first before seeking more information. You can count yourself lucky if you can reserve a slot now,” the employee said.

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The company said it had increased its booking fee for a five-in-one jab at a Hong Kong clinic to 258 yuan (HK$300) on Friday, up from 122 yuan just two days ago. But the vaccine fee payable to the clinic remained the same at HK$880.

“The reservation fee has been adjusted as booking has been more difficult,” the staff member said. “You’d better place an order as early as possible, as the price may increase further in a few days.”

You’d better place an order as early as possible, as the price may increase further in a few days
Booking agent staff

The Post tried to contact the company by phone for an interview but a staff member would only say that the firm had received more reservations in the past week, before hanging up. The company could not be reached by email or other office numbers displayed on its website.

Another booking agent, Waikong Health Management Services, also said there were “relatively more” people bringing their children to Hong Kong for vaccines. The company earlier said it took more than 30,000 calls from mainland parents in the span of two days after the scandal broke.

Social media posts by booking agents in the past week showed that other vaccine types, such as those preventing pneumococcal diseases and rotavirus infections, were also popular among mainland parents.

Shiny Liang Xiao-yun, a mother from Dongguan in Guangdong province, said she was considering bringing her nine-month-old child to Hong Kong for vaccination because of the recent scandal.

“I don’t care about the price or the travelling, as long as it’s good for my baby,” she said.

In Hong Kong, the Hello Kitty Health Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui said it was already fully booked until October. The Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley said its earliest appointment dates available for five-in-one or six-in-one vaccines would be in September.

Both facilities were among those named on mainland social media sites for vaccines.

A search on Weibo showed there were more than 600 registered accounts listed as individual or company agents offering vaccine booking services for mainland clients. It was unclear if all the accounts remained active.

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In all, the Post contacted eight agents for booking five-in-one vaccines in Hong Kong. Six said they could offer the service immediately. One said it was fully booked this month but was accepting appointments for next month.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Health said stocks for the five-in-one and six-in-one vaccines in the private market were stable with no shortages. Stocks of four-in-one vaccines under the government’s immunisation programme also remained stable, with sufficient supplies for three months.

Dr Ho Chung-ping, president of the Medical Association, said such business activities in reaction to the scandal could not be banned if they were legal. But he said in the long run, local doctors tending to mostly Hong Kong residents should get priority for vaccine orders in the event of any shortage.