2,000 kids to get painless nasal flu vaccine

Top News | Jane Cheung 18 Jul 2019

Schoolchildren will receive nasal flu vaccine for the first time as an outreach immunization program is extended to younger kids with the aim of avoiding a serious flu peak season.

About 2,000 children in selected schools and kindergartens will receive the free nasal vaccines from vaccination injection teams from October, Ada Lin Wai-chi, head of the Department of Health's program management and professional development, said yesterday.

Preschoolers might also be included.

"We will conduct a trial to provide nasal vaccines in suitable schools subject to the supply of the vaccine and logistical arrangements so we can test the feasibility and effectiveness of the new type of vaccine," she added.

The nasal spray is suitable for people between two and 49 but not for children and pregnant women with weak immunity.

William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, noted recently that the new vaccine is painless and easy to administer. Doctors or pharmacists simply spray the solution into a nasal cavity. Nasal sprays were introduced in Hong Kong in 2009, but suppliers stopped sending them to the SAR in 2013 due to low demand.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is a doctor, welcomed the expansion of the school outreach effort to kindergartens and the trial involving nasal sprays.

While the vaccination rate for children aged below 12 reached 46 percent for 2018-19 compared to 23 percent in 2017-18, he noted yesterday, it is still much lower than in the United Kingdom, where it is 60 percent.

He also suggested a further increase in the quantity of nasal vaccines and to formalize the scheme in kindergartens.

The Department of Health is procuring 810,000 doses of flu jabs and 2,000 nasal sprays. That compares with nearly 600,000 doses last year.

The decision to extend the school outreach vaccination program to kindergartens and nursery centers for the first time comes after widespread flu outbreaks - 528 institutions were affected - forced schools to shut a week early for the Lunar New Year holiday to stop the spread.

So far, 435 primary schools and 707 kindergartens have enrolled in the extended program.

"We will not set a quota for the number of schools or children under the program," Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee Chan said yesterday.

"Regardless of whether the children are Hong Kong citizens, all students of participating schools can receive the influenza jab for free."

The outreach program will be regularized in primary schools so all students can benefit from a free vaccination.

Schools that are not participating in the program can ask private doctors to their campuses to administer flu jabs, with a government subsidy of HK$210 for each dose.

A flu jab usually costs from HK$400 to HK$600 at private clinics and hospitals, including a doctor's fee. Nasal sprays would be twice the cost of the injections.

Wong Ka-hing, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said figures of previous years showed vaccinations are effective in preventing flu outbreaks. "We expect outbreaks of flu to be alleviated as the vaccination coverage expands," he said.

Wong also said the center has been monitoring the flu level over the past few weeks.

"According to our figures, the number of patients admitted to public hospitals due to flu saw a slight increase last month," he said, "but we have yet to reach the summer influenza surge." Most patients had the H1 or H3 virus of the A or B strains.

Wong warned that flu can cause a serious illness in high-risk and even healthy people so all citizens should have a vaccination.

And as it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies, he said, people should go for the jab as soon as possible.

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