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Opening remarks by SFH on vaccination programme (with video)

     Following are the opening remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a press conference on the vaccination programme for human swine influenza, pneumococcal and seasonal influenza today (June 9):

     As the Chief Executive has announced this morning, the Executive Council has endorsed the vaccination programme for human swine influenza.  And I now announce details.  

     The Executive Council has decided to initiate immediately the process for procurement of human swine influenza vaccines for four target groups of the population recommended by the Scientific Committees of the Centre for Health Protection, that is:

1) healthcare workers in both the public and private sectors;

2) children aged six months or above and below six years old;

3) elderly persons aged 65 and above; and

4) persons at higher risk of death and complications from human swine influenza due to pre-existing medical conditions.

     These four target groups amount to about two million people.  Professor Yuen is one of the chairmen of one of the Scientific Committees.  He will talk about the rationales of the recommendation later on.

     Human swine influenza is now a clear pandemic threat.

     After taking stock of the global situation of human swine influenza and the recent development of disease transmission in countries and areas, particularly in Australia and Chile in the southern hemisphere, and the trend of imported cases locally in the past two weeks, most experts agree that local transmission in Hong Kong is both imminent and inevitable.  And the situation in winter would become even more severe.

     To safeguard public health, a programme to provide vaccines to protect the more vulnerable groups in the population has to be devised.  So, an early decision has to be taken to secure a guaranteed supply of human swine influenza vaccines. But it is up to individuals to decide whether or not to take the vaccine.  It is entirely a voluntary scheme.

     The Scientific Committee has also considered whether or not to recommend vaccinating the entire population against human swine influenza.  Their conclusion is that there is no such need because not all people are in the at-risk group and that there is a potential risk of severe adverse side effects of the vaccine.  

     But since some members of the public might still want the vaccination even though they do not belong to the four categories of people, the Executive Council has therefore decided to order an extra one million doses for those who want to pay for the vaccination.  Since each person requires two doses, 500,000 people could benefit from this measure.  This category of individuals will not be subsidised.

     We will continue to gather facts from various vaccine manufacturers on the quality, availability and price of the vaccines; prepare tender for the eventual procurement of the vaccines; and seek funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council later this month.

     As there is a lead time of several months between placing the order and delivery, we will have to order the doses now, so that the vaccines will be ready for use in the coming winter flu season.  The vaccine is being developed.  After it has obtained registration approval from the relevant drugs authorities, then the Government can start the actual vaccination.

     We order the five million doses as an insurance to safeguard public health just in case there is an outbreak in Hong Kong.  As a city without local capability and capacity of manufacturing vaccines, taking an early decision is the only way that Hong Kong can secure an adequate supply of vaccines.  The total cost for this vaccination programme is estimated to be about $700 million.

     Let me now turn to the programme for pneumococcal and seasonal flu vaccinations for the elderly.

     This morning, the Executive Council also decided to give those elderly aged 65 and above pneumococcal and seasonal influenza vaccines for free.  The decision was made because the two vaccines play an important role alongside human swine influenza vaccine in mitigating the impact of an influenza epidemic in Hong Kong.  They complement the human swine influenza vaccine in preventing influenza from seasonal viruses such as the Brisbane strain of H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B, and reducing hospitalisations and deaths among elderly people when the latter are infected.

     The cost of this programme is about $300 million.

     All these vaccinations can take place in public hospitals and clinics, or in private hospitals and clinics.  We are working out implementation details right now.

     If in the end we need help from private doctors, we hope they can help out the community in the spirit of co-operation in the fight against the pandemic.  Public health must come first in their consideration.

     Tomorrow, I shall brief the Health Panel of the Legislative Council on details of these vaccination programmes.  And we prepare to seek funding approval of about $1 billion from the Finance Committee on June 19.

Ends/Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Issued at HKT 17:59


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