China's Vaccination Scandal: What it Means for Vaccines in Hong Kong

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The 2018 vaccine scandal in China caused a social media storm and anxiety amongst parents. In Hong Kong, a surge in demand for vaccines occured.


What has been this vaccination scandal in China?

It was revealed that a company called Changsheng Bio-technology falsified data for rabies and produced ineffective batches of DPT shots (to prevent diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus). In total, over 300,000 Chinese children received compulsory but substandard vaccines.


China’s authorities initially found in November 2017 that two batches of DPT vaccines failed to meet national standards. At the time, it said that the inferior vaccines do not boost immunity but are not a danger to human health.


Between July 15 and 20, 2018, Chinese authorities found evidence of forged data related to the production of 113,000 rabies vaccines and confirmed the number of 252,600 substandard DPT vaccines. This triggered viral reactions on Chinese social media.

What has been the impact on finding vaccines in Hong Kong?

It is important to note that China's DPT vaccines (or 3-in-1) are not routinely used in Hong Kong where 4-in-1 or 5-in-1 vaccines are given. If Mainland Chinese children come to Hong Kong to get vaccinated, they will either receive the 4-in-1 or 5-in-1 vaccines, which may entail an extra dose of Hib or HBV.  


A number of Hong Kong pediatricians and clinics are boosting their orders of infant vaccines, anticipating a surge in Mainland Chinese visitors. Private hospital Hong Kong Sanatorium has reported a rise in enquiries and said it had contacted suppliers to ensure "a stable supply of vaccines to meet the needs of patients in coming days" in a statement to AFP.


Mainland infants are estimated to represent about 10% of the demand for the 5-in-1 vaccine at Hong Kong's private clinics.


In Hong Kong, about 90% of all children receive the 4-in-1 vaccination through public facilities. Some Hong Kong parents prefer private clinics as they offer the 5-in-1 vaccine, which also include prevention against Hib.


The Hong Kong's Health Department said it will closely monitor the supply of vaccines to both public and private sectors but described it as "stable" for now. You can find more information on the 4-in-1 vaccination here.


The difference between China and Hong Kong: local versus international vaccines

In Mainland China, locally made vaccines account for over 95% of the market. As a result, for Mainland Chinese mothers looking for safety and who cannot often come to Hong Kong to have their child vaccinated, the only option is imported vaccines. These vaccines exist at private clinics but availability can be an issue.


In Hong Kong, all vaccines for children are from international pharmaceutical names, such as 

GlaxoSmithKline or Sanofi.


The current crisis is a reminder of the restriction that was put by the Hong Kong government in 2013 on infant milk formula being taken out of the city (maximum 1.8kg), in the wake of Mainland China’s 2008 milk scandal that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 others.


In 2016, the Hong Kong government also restricted public health clinics to providing vaccinations to more than 120 non-local children per month. This was meant to alleviate fears of a vaccine shortage for Hong Kong parents, after it emerged that 570 million yuan of improper vaccines were illegally sold across Mainland China for years.


Where to get vaccinated in Hong Kong? What is the cost of child vaccination in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, parents are not legally required to immunize their child but many nurseries and schools will not admit children who are not fully vaccinated. You can either get your child vaccinated in the public sector at your cluster’s Maternal and Child Health Centre or in the private sector at a private hospital or doctor’s clinic.


Reviewed on 26 July 2018 by Dr. Oliver Tang 鄧秀碩醫生 . Dr.Tang currently practices at Children at 818 and received his medical training from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Throughout his years of service in the public sector, he acquired skills in general pediatrics, neonatology and intensive care work, before joining the private sector. He holds diplomas in Child Health, Family Medicine, Dermatology, and is a member of the UK Colleges of Child Health. He is a recognized mentor in pediatrics, focusing on newborn care and children with respiratory diseases and allergies.

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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Dr. Tang Sau Shek Oliver
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