Hong Kong children at greater risk of flu due to low vaccination rate, expert warns as world pays ‘immunity debt’

Hong Kong children at greater risk of flu due to low vaccination rate, expert warns as world pays ‘immunity debt’

Hong Kong’s low flu vaccination rate among children is putting them at greater risk of infection, a leading medical expert has warned, adding the global population has been left with weakened immunity against such diseases following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Mike Kwan Yat-wah, an honorary associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s department of paediatrics and adolescent medicine, on Saturday urged the public to get their jabs amid a rise in flu cases.

“The global population is suffering from weakened immunity. We call it ‘immunity debt’ because we haven’t been in contact with these viruses for a long time during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he told a radio programme.

“That’s why we’ve been easily attacked by these viruses. This is a global trend.”

Official data from the week of April 7 to 13 shows the average consultation rate for influenza-like illness among general outpatient clinics was 8.2 cases per 1,000 consultations, higher than the 7.1 recorded in the previous week.

The city recorded 36 flu-related deaths among adults over a 10-day period starting April 7, while an 8-month-old baby had developed encephalopathy and an 8-year-old was suffering from meningoencephalitis, a flu-induced medical complication.

“The best way to prevent being infected is to get vaccinated against flu and Covid-19, wear a face mask and keep good hygienic habits such as washing hands regularly,” he said.

“Vaccination can prevent viral infections such as the coronavirus and influenza, serious complications, hospitalisation, as well as fatalities. Don’t overly rely on doctors because even sometimes they can’t handle serious complications such as brain lesions.”

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He also stressed the importance of getting children their jabs, noting that 31 of 39 children who suffered from serious cases of flu since last August were unvaccinated.

Kwan said the flu vaccination rate among those aged between 6 months and 12 years old was unsatisfactory, hovering at about 40 per cent to 60 per cent.

“To build a herd immunity barrier, we need to achieve a vaccination rate of 70 per cent to 80 per cent. With only an inoculation rate of 40 or 60 per cent, it is difficult to prevent the pandemic from spreading across the community,” he said.

Kwan called on parents to get their children inoculated, encouraging them to choose nasal vaccines as an alternative to injectable ones if they had concerns about injections.

“Parents should not be obstinate about getting their children vaccinated. It can really prevent serious complications such as brain lesions. Don’t regret it before it is too late,” he said.

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The government has rolled out several influenza vaccination programmes covering the elderly and staff at residential care homes, as well as schemes for children, those with chronic illnesses, medical workers and other high-risk groups.

Early Childhood Educators Association president Rosa Chow Wai-chun said the government programme provided nasal and injectable vaccines, with 90 per cent of parents opting for the former.

Nasal vaccines were currently only available to kindergartens and nurseries, she said, calling for the authorities to offer them at primary schools to ensure more children benefited.



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