21 April 2019
Kay Tse's private message on her misgivings about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine has gone viral on social media. Photo: RTHK/EJI
Kay Tse's private message on her misgivings about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine has gone viral on social media. Photo: RTHK/EJI

Kay Tse viral remarks show need for reliable medical information

An online audio message by Canto-pop star Kay Tse On-Kay expressing her misgivings about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine has gone viral.

“The effectiveness of this year’s vaccines is very low,” Tse, a mother of two, said in the five-minute recording. “Of the 10 people who took the injection, nine still got the flu.”

She also warned that some vaccines even contain mercury.

Tse said she wouldn’t let her 10-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl take the jabs, and even suggested to her parents and in-laws not to receive the injections too.

After learning that her remarks made waves on the internet, the singer admitted that the message came from her, but she clarified that she made it within a private group. She said she never intended for her message to influence the public.

The recording was widely shared in WhatsApp and WeChat instant messaging groups as well as online discussion sites about parenting.

Reacting to the controversy, Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, went on radio to rebut Tse’s message, calling it “totally wrong”.

The Hong Kong Medical Association and the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong also issued separate statements to dispute Tse’s claims.

The Department of Health also issued statements to uphold the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing seasonal influenza, adding that the approach has been in use for 70 years and has been thoroughly tested to ensure its safety.

The incident reflects the enormous amounts of medical information available on the internet, and the difficulty of telling for certain which ones are reliable and which are not.

A case in point is that of Chinese college student Wei Zexi, who died in April 2016. Wei used the search engine Baidu to look a cure to his cancer and spent 200,000 yuan (US$31,800) on some alternative treatments which didn’t work.

When the news spread, Baidu came under heavy attack, with the company’s chief executive, Robin Li, describing it as the company’s biggest-ever crisis.

Several companies have tried to fill in this medical and healthcare information gap, and are creating new business opportunities as a result.

Ping An’s healthcare portal, Good Doctor, offers online medical services and has 192.8 million registered users, with a network coverage that includes 3,100 hospitals and 7,500 pharmacy outlets. Last month the company filed an application to list in Hong Kong.

Tencent-backed WeDoctor offers appointment booking, prescription and diagnosis services online. It now has more than 150 million registered users on the mainland, and has established cooperation with 2,400 hospitals and 260,000 doctors.

Through such platforms, professional doctors can offer reliable medical information and interact with patients.

Meanwhile, patients can easily connect with reliable hospitals and doctors, rather than taking the risk of picking up some wrong tips from the internet.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 9

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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