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Vaccination Drive to Get Shot in Arm

Chinese health authorities plan to create a national influenza-monitoring system to contain the spread of the disease, which kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year. They said at the 2008 International Forum on Prevention and Control Policy of Flu in Beijing over the weekend.

The system would provide detailed information about the flu's spread and economic impacts in the country, Feng Zijian, director of the emergency response department of the China Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said.

"Once the system becomes operational, the government could make timely and appropriate responses to the health threat," he told China Daily.

He said that due to little awareness among the public, medical professionals and policymakers, only 1.5 percent of the Chinese population receives an annual flu vaccination.

In developed countries, the rate is more than 20 percent among the general population and 60 percent among people older than 60, World Health Organization (WHO) figures show.

Epidemiologists worldwide agree vaccinations are the most effective means of curbing the flu's spread. Also, vaccinations are about 75 percent effective in preventing flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, particularly among the young and elderly, Feng said.

WHO influenza coordinator Zhou Weigong urged wider use of flu vaccines in China, citing a high infection rate and a frequency of viral mutations in the country.

"China's influenza research serves as an important means of discovering the flu virus' latest mutations, sharing updated information with the rest of the world and improving protection globally," Zhou added.

Shu Yuelong, who heads a lab affiliated with China CDC, said the Chinese government has expanded efforts in this area since SARS and bird flu outbreaks hit the country.

"We are trying to raise public awareness about vaccinations and persuade the government to include it among major health priorities, such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and TB, through expertise based on detailed data," he said.

China CDC has listed on its website recommendations for demographics to be prioritized in vaccination work, including the elderly and young, Shu added.

Currently, the country's developed cities, such as Beijing, Suzhou and Xi'an, offer subsidized or free shots to local residents, according to the Ministry of Health.

Shu also called for closer coordination among domestic vaccine makers and health authorities in product planning, research and development, and quality control and supervision. Currently, many Chinese prefer imported flu vaccines, he added.

(China Daily June 30, 2008)

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