5 October 2015
More than threefold deaths was recorded in the previous winter influenza season than in bygone years. In the previous year, it was recorded a total no. of 641 severe cases of adults aged 18 or above of influenza-associated admissions to an intensive care unit or death, with 495 deaths. In comparison, there were 266 severe cases including 133 deaths in Year 2013-14.
Such high record of deaths could be due to many factors. Importantly factors include the public's low awareness on influenza prevention, the consistently low vaccination uptake rate (only about one in ten of the population), which fall short of the threshold required for herd immunity. Compared to neighboring regions, Hong Kong has a particularly low influenza vaccination uptake rate, e.g. the uptake rate in Korea is over 70%. Taiwan is an excellent example of progressive improvement in influenza vaccination coverage with planned implementation of achieving herd immunity. Primary school students, pregnant women and those 50 years old individuals fall into the high risk groups were included in their Influenza Vaccination Subsidy Programme, which result in an over 30% vaccination uptake rate and a substantial mortality drop by 90%.
The Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) would like to appeal for all citizens to get influenza vaccinations before the arrival of the winter influenza peak season, so as to protect their personal health. Dr. CHAN Yee Shing, Alvin, the HKMA Vice-President cum Chairman of the HKMA Task Force on Vaccination Public-Private-Interface, considered that the Government should not only indulge in empty talk on the recommended priority groups but not subsidizing them all. In addition, representing the HKMA, Dr. CHAN also recommends those professions that deal with the crowds in their daily work to get flu vaccinations as soon as they can because they have a higher risk of getting influenza infection during influenza peak, vaccinations can therefore protect them against the influenza viruses effectively. Dr. CHAN also suggested the Government to reduce the eligible age of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme (EHCVS) to 65, in line with what of the Senior Citizen Card Scheme. To increase the EHCVS annual voucher amount to $4,000 and the accumulation limit to $6,000. And to educate the public on utilizing the EHCV on vaccinations.
Influenza can be fatal. According to the World Health Organization, it was estimated that influenza can result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide annually. Vaccination is at present the most effective way to protect one from influenza infection and its complications. "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure", The HKMA President Dr. SHIH Tai Cho, Louis, JP, suggested again to the Hon Mr. John TSANG Chun Wah, GBM, JP, Financial Secretary on preventive medicine budgeting for his consideration in next financial year. It was proposed to broaden the scope of coverage of influenza vaccination subsidy to all priority groups, to increase the influenza vaccination subsidy amount, and to raise the public awareness on influenza and vaccination through public education campaigns.
In view of their lower chance of receiving proper health information, the HKMA especially invited the ethnic minority children and their parents from the Western Pacific Kindergarten, and teaching staff for free influenza vaccinations administered by healthcare professionals. Serious influenza can occur even in healthy individuals, and it normally takes about 2 to 4 weeks after vaccination for the body to develop a sufficient level of antibodies to protect against influenza infection, the HKMA once again advice all people, especially those fall into the priority groups and all healthcare workers of both private/public sectors, and professions that deal with the crowds in their daily work, to take flu vaccinations before the winter flu season and maintain good personal hygiene as a protection of oneself against influenza. The public can consult their family doctors for more information on influenza vaccination.
Notes to editors:
The Hong Kong Medical Association, founded in 1920, aims to bring together Hong Kong's government, institutional, university and private medical practitioners for an effective exchange of views and co-ordination of efforts. The foremost objective of the Association is to safeguard and promote public health. The Association speaks collectively for its members and aims to keep its members abreast of medical ethics, issues and advances around the world. In fulfilling these goals, the association hopes to better serve the people of Hong Kong.