Hong Kong’s Department of Health halted the distribution of a batch of seasonal flu vaccines on Tuesday, after Taiwan authorities discovered that some from the batch were contaminated with white particles.

Around 175,000 doses from the affected batch were imported to the city, and roughly 75,000 have already been administered. The Department of Health said the wholesaler, Sanofi-Aventis Hong Kong Limited, had not received any local reports of similar white particles, and the suspension was only a “precautionary measure.”

File photo: Wikicommons.

“The [Department of Health] has immediately suspended the use of the affected vaccines. The DH’s services, including the Elderly Health Centres, will suspend seasonal influenza vaccination service until the supplier dispatched a new batch of [vaccines],” a spokesperson said. “Members of the public are advised to consult healthcare professionals if they feel unwell after receiving seasonal influenza vaccination.”

According to Sanofi-Aventis, affected doses were distributed to the health department, Hospital Authority and healthcare facilities.

‘No evidence’

Sanofi-Aventis said it had not received any report – either in Hong Kong or worldwide – about the safety of vaccines being compromised. It told the Department of Health that “there is so far no evidence showing that the quality, safety or efficacy of the [vaccines] supplied to Hong Kong have been affected, or that safety risk is imposed to those receiving the vaccines.”

The Department of Health has asked Sanofi-Aventis to submit a full investigative report, and to substitute the affected vaccines with a new batch.

Department of Health. File

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Wednesday that the government was still trying to confirm the details.

“The Department of Health and the Hospital Authority are doing their best to verify the number of used and unused vaccines, and to trace the locations where they were distributed,” Chan said.

She added that Sanofi-Aventis’s new batch of vaccines was expected to arrive within the week. The Department of Health will instruct medical personnel to visually check the vaccine for problems before injection, but will not conduct random sampling tests.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki criticised the government for its slow response, saying that the situation in Taiwan had been developing since last month. He added that the government should conduct laboratory tests on the vaccines and not just return them to the wholesaler.

Kwok, along with DAB lawmaker Ann Chiang, suggested that the Department of Health should set up a hotline or website to answer the public’s enquiries.

HKFP has reached out to a spokesperson for Sanofi-Aventis Hong Kong for comment.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.