Hong Kong doctor found giving expired flu vaccines to patients

Hong Kong skyline on a foggy day.
A doctor in Hong Kong was found giving expired flu vaccines to patients.

Just as one of Hong Kong’s deadliest summer flu seasons is finally winding down, Hong Kong’s Department of Health has started an investigation into a local doctor’s practice of providing expired FluQuadri flu vaccines to patients.

The investigation by the agency’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) is against private clinic owner Ma Ho-ming, who administered expired FluQuadri to at least 20 patients, according to a release by the CHP. Sanofi Pasteur’s FluQuadri is a quadrivalent influenza vaccine marketed as Fluzone in the U.S.

The CHP inspected the clinic following a public complaint filed by a parent. Inoculation records show that vaccines for children aged 6 months to 35 months had expired on June 5 and those for people 3 years and older had expired on June 22, but were administered to at least 10 children and 10 elderly persons eligible under the Vaccination Subsidy Scheme after expiration.

“According to the vaccine manufacturer concerned, expired vaccines with declined efficacy will not be effective in protecting recipients from infections,” a CHP spokesman said in the release, adding that the agency hasn’t received any report of adverse events associated with the case.

The CHP said Ma has been delisted from the vaccination subsidy plan and it might follow up with further actions, although initial investigations show that he didn’t provide the expired vaccines intentionally, South China Morning Post reported.

The news came as Hong Kong had just experienced one of the deadliest summer flu seasons. From May 5 to Aug. 15, the CHP recorded 534 severe influenza-associated cases, among them 387 deaths, prompting wide comparison with the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic that caused 299 deaths in the city.

But Dominic Tsang Ngai-Chong, a senior Hong Kong Hospital Authority official, told SCMP that the two diseases are “incomparable.” Unlike SARS, only a small proportion of people infected with the flu were admitted to hospital, Tsang said.

Tsang, among other scientists, attributed the severe flu season to virus mutation and hence diminished protection from vaccines that were administered last year.

Influenza activity in Hong Kong has dropped greatly in August, but the CHP warns that it “will still be active for a while as it takes time for influenza activity to return to baseline from the peak.”