The delayed winter influenza peak has led to recent influenza outbreak. Long queues were found no matter in private medical clinics or General Outpatient Clinics and Accident & Emergency department of the public hospitals. All of these services were overloading. In addition, the supply of hospital beds is unable to meet the continuous demand from patients in both private and public hospitals. Influenza vaccines are also found to be insufficient in the private market. The abovementioned conditions indicating that the Government is lacking of liability on prevention of the influenza epidemic. The outbreak of influenza may be unavoidable, while we can definitely reduce the seriousness and effect of the epidemic, the overloaded works of healthcare professionals during each year's influenza peak and the overcrowded hospitals by implementing the following measures.
In the past 2 years, the Government has recommended people over the aged of 50 as a priority group for influenza vaccination to prevent influenza infection. However, such priority group was not being subsidized or free for the vaccination. In addition, primary school students are susceptible to cross infection in schools, the only fatal case aged under 18 due to influenza related infection so far was a primary school student. The HKMA proposes the Government to provide vaccinations to primary school students. Indeed the expenditure on preventive medicine is far lower than those additional manpower and resources spend during each year's influenza peak seasons. If the Government can expand the groups on free/subsidized influenza vaccination, increase the resources on public education and ensure sufficient supply of influenza vaccines in the market, the current chaotic during influenza peak must be improved.
The HKMA would like to remind the public that influenza can be fatal. The World Health Organization 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. In Hong Kong, there were 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 the last influenza season. As at 9 March this year, there were 198 adult severe cases (including 73 deaths), and 11 cases of severe paediatric influenza-associated complication/death among patients aged below 18 years (including 1 death) was recorded. It was expected that the influenza peak would be ceased by end of April. Vaccination is still the most effective way to protect one from influenza infection and its complications.
To effectively tackle the influenza outbreak, the public must raise their prevention awareness by actively participating in influenza vaccination so as to ensure the herd immunity can be created. The overall vaccination uptake rate of 14% each year indicating that the Government's ineffective work on the public education of influenza prevention and vaccination.
The HKMA suggests the following
proposals to the Government:
1. To offer free/subsidized influenza vaccination to all priority groups, especially the primary school students and those aged 50 or above;
2. To proactively educate the public on influenza prevention and the importance of vaccination, and to explain the safety of vaccination;
3. To ensure there is sufficient supply of influenza vaccines in the market to fulfil the demand.
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.
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