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LCQ7: Rabies control

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Helena Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (February 6):


     Representatives from animal rights concern groups have relayed to me that it was only after their reminder did the staff of the Animal Management Centres of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) attach expiry date labels on rabies vaccines.  However, when the concern groups examined such labels later on, they found that the vaccines had expired for 10 months.  As such, they suspect that some dogs have been inoculated with expired vaccines by AFCD.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the quantity of rabies vaccines purchased and the number of dogs inoculated by AFCD, as well as how AFCD disposed of the expired vaccines and the quantity of such vaccines in each of the past five years;

(b) whether AFCD had received in each of the past five years reported cases of dogs being inoculated with expired rabies vaccines; if it had, of the details (including the number of cases as well as the place, date and time of inoculation, etc.); whether it had investigated if human negligence or errors had been involved in each case; if the investigation results were in the affirmative, of the punishment imposed on the staff concerned; whether AFCD had re-inoculated the dogs which had been inoculated with expired vaccines;

(c) whether it has assessed the impact of dogs being inoculated with expired rabies vaccines on their behaviour and health, as well as the threat to human safety posed by dogs not immunised; whether it knows the number of dogs in each of the past five years which suffered behavioural and health problems caused by their having been inoculated with expired vaccines;

(d) whether a mechanism is in place at present to monitor and control the procedures of inoculation for dogs against rabies and the quality of the vaccines;

(e) of the respective numbers of complaints and enquires received in each of the past five years relating to AFCD's inoculation for dogs against rabies, with a breakdown by the subject of the complaints; and

(f) whether a mechanism is in place at present to announce incidents relating to AFCD's inoculation of dogs with expired vaccines, with a view to enhancing public awareness?



     Rabies is a fatal disease.  It may be transmitted from infected dogs to humans through dog bites.  It is estimated that over 55 000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die of rabies every year.  The last animal rabies case in Hong Kong was reported in 1987.  Although Hong Kong has a good track record in rabies control, we must stay vigilant and exercise due diligence in taking the necessary preventive measures.

     A comprehensive anti-rabies programme has been implemented by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), with rabies vaccination for dogs being one of the key measures.  Under the Rabies Regulation (Cap. 421A), all dogs aged over 5 months must be vaccinated against rabies.  Offenders are liable to a maximum penalty of $10,000.  To ensure an adequate level of protection against rabies, dogs must be re-vaccinated every three years.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The quantity of vaccines against rabies purchased by AFCD and the number of dogs vaccinated against rabies in each of the past five years are set out in Annex.

     AFCD will check the stock of vaccines on a regular basis and decide on the quantity of vaccines to be purchased every year in light of their usage.  Since the vaccines have a shelf life of three years, they are usually used up before expiry.  Vaccines that have passed their expiry date will be disposed of and discarded as chemical waste in accordance with the Waste Disposal (Chemical Waste) (General) Regulation (Cap. 354C).

(b) Over the past five years, AFCD has received one report of inoculation with expired rabies vaccine.  The case, which took place on December 10, 2012, involved a 5-month old Chihuahua taken by its owner to AFCD's Anti-Rabies Dog Inoculation & Licensing Centre in the Hong Kong Park for rabies vaccination and licensing.  The dog owner later found from the label attached to the licence that the vaccine had expired.

     Upon notification, the AFCD officer concerned contacted the dog owner immediately and expeditiously arranged a health check for the dog by AFCD's Veterinary Officer.  The dog was found to be in good health.  Meanwhile, after the incident, AFCD has immediately checked all rabies vaccines kept in various Animal Management Centres and other vaccination centres.  No expired vaccines were found.  After discussion with the dog owner, AFCD arranged another inoculation against rabies and health check for the dog on January 7, 2013.

     According to its initial investigation, AFCD believes that the incident involves negligence on the part of an individual staff member.  AFCD is following up, in accordance with the Civil Service Regulations, arrangements for taking action against the staff member in question.

(c) After the incident, AFCD has contacted the vaccine manufacturer concerned to enquire about the use of expired vaccines.  The vaccine manufacturer has confirmed that expired vaccines should not cause harm to animals if they are properly stored and free from contamination, though they might not provide adequate protection against the disease.

(d) Since the incident, AFCD has reviewed the guidelines on storage and use of vaccines and improved the relevant procedures.  It has also reminded the relevant staff members to check carefully the expiry date of vaccines before use.

(e) According to AFCD records, there have been three complaints about rabies vaccines, all of which were received during the period from late 2012 to early 2013 and related to the above case.

(f) It is the prevailing practice of AFCD to duly notify the public of any incident that is related to public health and involves significant public interest, as a means to protect public safety.

Ends/Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:40


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