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Flu in Hong Kong

Offer Hong Kong schoolchildren nasal spray vaccine to fight flu and not just traditional jabs, hospital pharmacists say

Group cites survey showing parents prefer such an option, but health officials counter there is no evidence it is more effective than traditional jabs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 10:53pm

As the school-based flu vaccination programme starts in Hong Kong on Monday, hospital pharmacists have urged officials to offer intranasal spray as an option to ease parents’ concerns about traditional injections.

Medical teams will visit 184 primary schools across the city to administer free flu jabs under a new government scheme meant to ensure children are vaccinated against the viral infection. Earlier this year, 398 people died of the flu, two of them children.

Health authorities are hoping that the on-site strategy will boost the city’s vaccination coverage rate – now at about 18 per cent – to ensure enough children are protected. This follows a tough winter earlier this year when multiple outbreaks hit local kindergartens and primary schools, prompting the government to close schools earlier than usual for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists on Wednesday said it conducted a survey in August and September of 139 parents whose children were aged between 3 and 12. It found that while 90 per cent worried their children would catch the flu, 40 per cent did not plan to have their children vaccinated.

The group’s president, William Chui Chun-ming, said 60 per cent were worried about side effects from the injections and half thought that the vaccine’s efficacy was less than 50 per cent.

About 55 per cent of the parents said they preferred their children to receive the nasal flu vaccine, and 80 per cent wanted it administered at school.

Under the supervision of a doctor, pharmacists could give the intranasal vaccination to the children
William Chui, Society of Hospital Pharmacists

Based on their findings, Chui said: “We recommend the government introduce the intranasal vaccine so the parents have another option (for their children).”

“We also recommend the government hire pharmacists to give the vaccine because the cost of a pharmacist is lower than that of a doctor, and there is a sufficient supply of pharmacists. In other words, under the supervision of a doctor, pharmacists could give the intranasal vaccination to the children.”

Chui believed the government would introduce the nasal flu vaccine in phases, given it would be twice as expensive as a jab.

He also urged officials to expand the pilot programme to cover junior secondary school students.

The Centre for Health Protection on Wednesday said overseas research and experience had shown the nasal spray vaccine was safe and provided the same protection as an injection.

“There is no evidence to support prioritising the use of the nasal spray vaccine,” he added.

Dr Henry Kong, a public health specialist, said the effectiveness of both nasal sprays and injections is “similar”.

Vaccinations were “the most effective way” to prevent flu, he added, noting they could prevent complication by “up to about 70 per cent”.

“People should not think influenza is just a minor disease. Actually it is quite serious. It can cause complications like pneumonia, heart attack and even death.”

The centre hoped that more than half of the roughly 130,000 pupils who attend the 184 schools under the pilot programme would be vaccinated.

How 1968’s deadly Hong Kong flu left more than one million dead

The institutions were selected from 330 primary schools that applied to be part of a newly launched school outreach vaccination pilot programme.

This means only one-third of more than 500 local, private and international primary schools in the city are taking part.

Some 819,000 doses of flu vaccine for qualifying individuals were administered during the last flu peak season, up 16.7 per cent over the 2016/2017 season.

For this 2018/19 season, the subsidised vaccination programme has been expanded to cover people aged 50 to 64.