Following the end of the summer influenza season announced by the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) on August 30, the Hospital Authority (HA) announced on the next day that extra 500 beds will be added to prepare for the upcoming winter influenza peak season.

2,000 extra beds are needed to prepare for the upcoming winter flu season

According to Dr Alan Wai-lun Cheung, HA's Director (Cluster Services), most of the extra beds will be added to public hospitals in Kowloon and the New Territories. 

"The 500 beds will be first set up in January next year as short-term beds," said Cheung. "We will arrange to turn them into permanent beds once newly graduated doctors and nurses are on board after summer."

Although the number has doubled the increase from 2014/15 to 2015/16, Cheung admitted the extra 500 beds are not sufficient to cope with the surge in demand in upcoming winter influenza peak season. He added that even after the increase, hospitals would still fall short of the target of 2,000 extra beds, which he said would be the appropriate number to effectively reduce hospitals' occupancy rates.

In response to the surge in service demand amid the summer influenza peak season this year, HA has also reached a contingency agreement with St Teresa’s Hospital (STH) to receive patients from public hospitals. However, as of August 30, only 35 patients were transferred, fewer than the 48 beds leased by STH.

Government Vaccination Programme (GVP) and Vaccination Subsidy Scheme (VSS) concluded

According to CHP's Flu Express, 579 severe cases, including 429 deaths, were recorded as of August 30. Separately, 19 cases of severe paediatric (aged below 18 years) influenza-associated complication/death, including three deaths, were recorded in the same period.

Despite the end of the summer influenza season, CHP reinforced its recommendation to high-risk individuals and even healthy persons to receive influenza vaccine for personal protection. 

The authority has also recently announced the end of Government Vaccination Programme (GVP) and Vaccination Subsidy Scheme (VSS) 2016/17 as all seasonal influenza vaccines (SIVs) expired after August 31. 

A total of 703,000 doses of SIV were administered in 2016/17, an increase of 18.6 per cent compared to 2015/16, including about 414,000 via the GVP and 288,000 under the VSS, increases of 4.7% and 46.4% respectively.

"Upon expiry of the last batch of SIVs for the GVP and VSS 2016/17, the related vaccination arrangements will be stopped," a spokesman for the CHP said.

"We have reminded the GVP's service providers and private doctors enrolled in the VSS since April and May of the expiry date of SIVs, the latest of which is August 31. Expired vaccines should be properly disposed of to avoid mistakenly administering them to clients," the spokesman said.

"Members of the public should not receive 2016/17 SIVs after August 31 as they will be expired. We strongly advise the public to get vaccinated in the new season for personal protection before the arrival of the possible winter influenza season. Eligible groups are urged to receive free or subsidised vaccination under the 2017/18 programmes to be launched around October," the spokesman added.

According to the vaccine manufacturer, 2017/18 SIVs have arrived in Hong Kong in batches. Vaccines procured by the government will be delivered to service providers, while enrolled doctors are advised to make vaccine orders as appropriate in preparation for the 2017/18 programmes. MIMS

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