Blog

Fewer children are taking government seasonal flu jabs than last a year ago, official data has shown, with the number vaccinated down 25 per cent this flu season. That is despite

an increase in total vaccinations.

The revelation came shortly after the first child death from seasonal flu this year. The six-year-old boy, who had not been vaccinated, died on Tuesday.

The figures, obtained by the Post from the Department of Health, add to worries for the authority and for doctors, with Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man saying on Thursday this year’s dominant strain – H1N1 – mainly afflicts children and that he expected the flu season would peak in April. He said the increasing number of infections had added pressure to paediatric units.

The government gave around 51,000 seasonal influenza vaccines to children between October and February this year, a decrease of around 25 per cent from the same period in 2014-15.

But the total number vaccinated by the government has increased by 14 per cent to 563,000.

Paediatrician Dr Alvin Chan Yee-shing attributed the decrease in child vaccination rates to fears of getting the wrong jab. The World Health Organisation recommended an ineffective flu vaccine last year. That resulted in almost 500 deaths in Hong Kong.

Chan criticised the department for a lack of education on the importance of vaccinating children, and focusing on the elderly.

But the department attributed the drop to the higher service charge for children, compared with old people.

“The higher service charge on children has likely affected their readiness to take vaccination,” a department spokesman said, adding that parents tended to choose the quadrivalent influenza vaccine, four times the price of the trivalent influenza vaccine.

Dr Chan explained the higher cost was due to having more procedures performed before the jab.

“Paediatricians have to check whether the child is allergic to eggs. It might take three minutes to vaccinate a child, while it takes only 30 seconds for an old person,” said Chan.

At least 10 children have been admitted to intensive care with flu this year, including the boy who died on Tuesday.

He died after suffering from a fever, cough and runny nose. He tested positive for influenza B and was diagnosed with myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscles. Po Leung Kuk Camões Tan Siu Lin Primary School said there was no flu outbreak there, and that it would continue to take anti-epidemic measures.

The boy’s elder sister was last night in Tseung Kwan O Hospital, having tested positive for the same virus.

Last week, there were 37 adults with severe cases of flu, of whom 11 died.