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Hong Kong clinics get set for surge in mainland visitors amid China vaccine scandal

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Consumers from mainland China, spooked by news of the substandard vaccines that have cornered 95 per cent of the mainland market, prefer to bring their children to Hong Kong clinics, which mostly use vaccines supplied by foreign pharmaceutical giants such sa GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.

Hong Kong

HENRY Yeung, a paediatrician and president of the Hong Kong Doctors Union, has just boosted his orders for a popular vaccine for infants - stocking up for a surge in mainland Chinese visitors, spooked by the country's latest vaccine scandal.

"I am guessing that demand is going to double," he said of his outlook for the next few months. The shot prevents diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio as well as Hib, a bacterial illness which can cause a range of diseases. Mainland infants now account for about 10 per cent of demand for the five-in-one vaccine at Hong Kong's private clinics, he noted.

In mainland China, confidence in local vaccines has been shaken anew and social media has erupted in fury after Changsheng Bio-technology Co Ltd was found to falsified data for its rabies vaccines and produced batches for shots ineffective against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Whereas domestically made vaccines account for 95 per cent of the mainland market, many Hong Kong private clinics provide foreign imports produced by global pharmaceutical giants such as GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.

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This appeals to mums like Eunice Li, a 31-year-old from Shenzhen, who said she had planned on coming to Hong Kong anyway to get her son vaccinated, and that she was now doubly thankful she had done her homework.

"I did research beforehand. Comparing to those in China, I think Hong Kong's vaccines are better, so I chose to come here," she said. She was with her son at the LuxMed Clinic in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui.

LuxMed says enquiries from mainland Chinese have surged five- or six-fold over the past few days. With public outrage over the Changsheng scandal, the company has become the subject of investigations by parties such as the police, the top corruption watchdog and the securities regulator.

President Xi Jinping has denounced the scandal as "vile and shocking", and Changsheng has publicly apologised in a regulatory filing. The mid-sized firm's chairman and 14 others have since been detained by police.

Ms Li, noting that there have been other similar scandals, said: "A lot of people are talking about this on WeChat, expressing their anger, their fears and concerns. We need a more fundamental solution to this problem."

In 2016, Chinese police busted a gang which sold around US$90 million in illegal vaccines on the black market. Hong Kong has long been a haven for mainland Chinese following food and public health scandals in China over the years. Unlike some incidents where there has been a run on stocks of certain products, few problems are expected with the impending jump in visitors seeking jabs.

The government provides about 90 per cent of vaccinations for Hong Kong children through the public service. Some locals prefer private clinics as they offer the five-in-one vaccine, whereas public clinics offer a four-in-one jab that does not include prevention against Hib. Representatives for Sanofi and GSK said supplies in Hong Kong were stable. REUTERS