Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee sought to ease concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines offered by the government for the coming influenza season, saying it is too early to say they will not be able to fight the flu viruses, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Chan made the remarks on Tuesday after the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report on Sept. 28 that the H3N2 strain has mutated, and recommended that vaccine shots for the 2018 flu season in the southern hemisphere be changed to those that contain the Singapore (H3N2)-like virus from those with Hong Kong (H3N2)-like virus.
While Hong Kong is in the northern hemisphere, there are concerns that the free flu vaccines offered by the government, including those that will be put to use later this year, might not be effective.
Such concerns result from the fact that more than 300 people died during the flu peak season this summer, an abnormal situation that has not been seen over the past years and almost paralyzed the operations of public hospitals.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Dr. David Christopher Lung, two microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong, said in July that tests in May did show mutation of the H3N2 strain and that might have rendered vaccine shots ineffective and caused massive infections as a result.
On Tuesday Yuen said the WHO report confirmed his research, and revealed that the government does not agree with his findings.
Chan, however, said initial analysis by the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) failed to show significant antigenic changes in the local strain of the influenza virus.
In a statement, a CHP spokesman said the latest surveillance data showed that local influenza activity remained at a low level.
He also said the winter influenza season has yet to arrive, and it is too early at this stage to question whether the local vaccines match with future circulating viruses, and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
The CHP has informed its Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and its Working Group on Influenza Vaccination to take reference from the WHO report, the spokesman said, adding that the centerwill continue to closely monitor local and global influenza activities, predominating strains, vaccine effectiveness and relevant scientific literature.
The government has procured 460,000 doses of vaccines that contain Hong Kong (H3N2)-like virus for the 2017/18 year.
Whether the vaccines will be effective for the winter flu season remains to be seen, but cases of mismatch have happened before.
Three years ago, vaccine mismatch caused the government to spend an extra HK$4 million to procure 100,000 doses of vaccine shots prepared for the southern hemisphere as an emergency move.
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